Skip to main content

Full text of "Fly and the fly-bottle"

See other formats


I 




1 




1 




1 




'-■ 




1 


p^' 


I 




g 




1 


I v w * 



/&*:■;■ 



/:•:..•,•■■'•.•■•;■ 
;*- ■>' : .->"- '••■i| 

■.•••,•.•■••■•;•: 



(Sh$ 



UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 




COLLEGE LIBRARY 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://www.archive.org/details/flyflybottleOOmeht 



Books by Ved Mehta 



FACE TO FACE 

WALKING THE INDIAN STREETS 

FLY AND THE FLY-BOTTLE: ENCOUNTERS WITH 
BRITISH INTELLECTUALS 



Fly and the Fly-Bottle 



Encounters with British Intellectuals 



Fly and the Fly-Bottle 



Encounters with British Intellectuals 



by 

Ved Mehta 




An Atlantic Monthly Tress Book 



LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY * BOSTON • TORONTO 




THE MATERIAL IN THIS BOOK ORIGINATED, IN 1961 AND 1962, IN 

The New Yorker, copyright © 1 961 , 1 962, by the new yorker 

MAGAZINE, INC. 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE REPRO- 
DUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE 
PUBLISHER, EXCEPT BY A REVIEWER WHO MAY QUOTE BRIEF PAS- 
SAGES IN A REVIEW TO BE PRINTED IN A MAGAZINE OR NEWSPAPER. 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NO. 63-12097 

FIRST EDITION 



ATLANTIC-LITTLE, BROWN BOOKS 

ARE PUBLISHED BY 

LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY 

IN ASSOCIATION WITH 
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS 



Published simultaneously in Canada 
by Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited 



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 



For William Shawn 



For one day in thy courts 
is better than a thousand. 
-Psalm 84 



"What is your aim in philosophy?— To show the fly 
the way out of the fly-bottle." 

Ludwig Wittgenstein 
"Philosophical Investigations" 



Contents 



CHAPTER ONE 

A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence 

1 

CHAPTER TWO 

The Open Door 
46 

CHAPTER THREE 

Argument Without End 
106 

CHAPTER FOUR 

The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds 
193 



Fly and the Fly-Bottle 



Encounters with British Intellectuals 



HAPTER ON 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment 
of Our Intelligence 



I've spent some happy years in Oxford, and to keep 
in touch with England I read her newspapers. I 
am most at home with the Guardian, but I also like to 
look at the correspondence columns of the Times, where, 
in an exception to the Times tradition of anonymity, the 
writers are identified by name and speak directly to the 
reader. I relish a contest of words, and the Times page 
of letters becomes for me a street where I can stroll 
each morning and see the people of England — lords and 
commoners — shake hands, spit at each other, and set 
off verbal barrages. I began taking this engaging daily 
walk during my undergraduate years at Balliol College, 
Oxford, and I've kept up the habit, whether I have found 
myself in Paris, Damascus, New Delhi, or New York. 
One autumn day in 1959, as I was talcing my intellectual 
promenade, I met Bertrand Russell, under a signboard 



2 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

reading "Review Refused." "Messrs. Gollancz have 
recently published a book by Ernest Gellner called 
'Words and Things/ " he said as he hailed me. "I read 
this book before it was published and considered it a 
careful and accurate analysis of a certain school of 
philosophy, an opinion which I expressed in a preface. 
I now learn that Professor Ryle, the editor of Mind, has 
written to Messrs. Gollancz refusing to have this book 
reviewed in Mind, on the ground that it is abusive and 
cannot therefore be treated as a contribution to an 
academic subject. Such a partisan view of the duties of 
an editor is deeply shocking. The merit of a work of phi- 
losophy is always a matter of opinion, and I am not sur- 
prised that Professor Ryle disagrees with my estimate 
of the work, but Mind has hitherto, ever since its foun- 
dation, offered a forum for the discussion of all serious 
and competent philosophical work. Mr. Gellner's book 
is not 'abusive' except in the sense of not agreeing with 
the opinions which he discusses. If all books that do 
not endorse Professor Ryle's opinions are to be boycotted 
in the pages of Mind, that hitherto respected periodical 
will sink to the level of the mutual-admiration organ of 
a coterie. All who care for the repute of British phi- 
losophy will regret this." 

I did care for the repute of British philosophy. It is, 
in a sense, a dominant philosophy, with Existentialism, 
in the present-day world. I had gone up to Oxford with 
the idea of studying it — British philosophy has its home 
there and indeed is known generally as "Oxford phi- 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 3 

losophy," even though its detractors, taking their cue 
from its so-considered petty linguistic concerns, insist on 
calling it linguistic philosophy. However, just reading 
a few essays on philosophical subjects to my tutor made 
me realize that the linguistic inquiries then being under- 
taken at Oxford had little connection with what I under- 
stood by philosophy, so I immediately abandoned it and 
took up history instead. Now I recalled that Gellner 
was a Reader in Sociology at the London School of 
Economics, a home for angry intellectual orphans, while 
Gilbert Ryle was Wayneflete Professor of Metaphysical 
Philosophy at Oxford, from which he edited the 
extremely influential, eighty-five-year-old philosophical 
journal Mind. The notion of an attack on Oxford 
thinkers interested me, and I dashed off a letter to 
Blackwell's, my favorite bookshop, for Gellner 's book. 
While I waited for it to arrive, I impatiently read the 
subsequent issues of the Times, eager to see Earl 
Russell's gauntlet taken up, preferably by Ryle. It was. 
This important spokesman of the philosophical Establish- 
ment replied four days after Russell's challenge. His 
communication was terse, to the point, and full of refer- 
ences for diligent readers: "In the book referred to by 
Earl Russell . . . about 100 imputations of disingenuous- 
ness are made against a number of identifiable teachers 
of philosophy; about half of these occur on pages 159-192 
and 237-265." 

The shooting had just begun. An eighty-seven-year-old 
philosopher, out of humor with "a certain school of 



4 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

philosophy," had clashed with its standard-bearer, and 
neither of them lacked a retinue. The day after Ryle's 
note appeared, the Times carried a third letter under 
the heading of the week, "Review Refused," this one 
written by a correspondent named Conrad Dehn. "If 
the imputations are justified," Dehn argued, "this could 
not be a good ground [for Ryle's refusal to review 
Gellner's book], while if they are not I should have 
thought a review in Mind would provide an excellent, 
even a welcome, opportunity to rebut them." There 
was also a letter from G. R. G. Mure, the last of the 
English Hegelians and the Warden of Merton College, 
Oxford. He, too, was on the side of Russell. "In a 
tolerably free society," the Warden wrote, "the ban, 
the boycott, even the too obtrusively cold shoulder, 
tend to promote the circulation of good books as well 
as bad. One can scarcely expect that the linguistical 
Oxford philosophy tutors, long self-immunized to criti- 
cism, will now rush to Blackwell's, but I am confident 
that their pupils will." I was delighted that Mure had 
taken this occasion to speak out against any philosophical 
establishment; while I was at the university, the under- 
graduates used to say of the Warden that he couldn't 
declare his mind, because half a century ago Russell 
demolished Hegel and since then no respectable phi- 
losopher had dared acknowledge himself a Hegelian 
openly. 

On the following day, I found a letter from Gellner 
himself. "My book," the polemicist wrote, replying to 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 5 

Ryle, "does not accuse linguistic philosophers of 'disin- 
genuousness.' . . . This word does not occur in it once, 
let alone one hundred times. It does attack linguistic 
doctrines and methods as inherently evasive. . . . This 
claim does not require (though it does not exclude) 
conscious dishonesty. ... I am sorry to see Professor 
Ryle resorting to one further device, the exclusion of 
criticism as indecorous, and thus evading once again 
the substantive issue of the merits of linguistic phi- 
losophy." Gellner's letter left me baffled. I was still 
wondering whether Ryle had an excuse for not review- 
ing the book. My skepticism was not shared by a 
knighted gentleman, Sir Leslie Farrer, private solicitor 
to the Queen, who appeared on the same page as Gellner. 
Sir Leslie defended the author of "Words and Tilings" 
with a sharp tongue. "Ridicule," he wrote, "is one of 
the oldest and not the least effective weapons of phi- 
losophic warfare, but yet we find Professor Ryle . . . 
speaking no doubt 'ex cathedra on a matter of faith or 
morals,' propounding the dogma that making fun of 
members of the Sacred College of Linguistic Philoso- 
phers is mortal sin. True, Ryle's first description of 
Gellner was the word 'abusive' and his second that he 
'made imputations of disingenuousness,' but those who 
read 'Words and Things' ( and I trust they will be many ) 
may agree with me that 'made fun of is a more accurate 
description." 

Sir Leslie was the sixth disputant in the Gellner con- 
troversy. In the first week of "Review Refused," the 



6 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

Times must have received many letters on the subject, 
but of the six that it selected, five took the Gellner- 
Russell side. The Times' five-to-one support of Gellner 
indicated a confidence in him that, in my opinion, was 
not completely justified by his letter. Despite encounters 
with some worldly philosophers while I was an under- 
graduate, I did not associate public letter-writing with 
philosophers; I continued to think of them as Olympian 
sages. Now this bout in the Times shattered my view 
of their serenity. Instead of age and quiet wisdom, they 
had youth and energy and anger. I pictured in my mind 
all the philosophers in England racing to the Times 
office with their dispatches now that Gellner's book had 
given them an occasion for their precious pronounce- 
ments. The day after Sir Leslie's letter, the Times cor- 
respondence page was silent on philosophy, but the 
Queen's peace was broken the next day by John Wisdom, 
a Cambridge professor of philosophy, and "Review 
Refused," already a heap of pelting words, continued 
to grow. Wisdom's loyalty to Ryle was unquestioning, 
and resembled that of a cardinal to the Pope. "I do not 
know whether it was right to refuse a review to Mr. 
Gellner's book," he asserted. "I have not read it. Lord 
Russell's letter . . . carried the suggestion that Professor 
Ryle refused the book a review because it is opposed 
to Ryle's philosophy. That suggestion I believe to be 
false." Such a letter could hardly do much to advance 
Ryle's cause. But the next day — a Saturday — the Rus- 
sell-Gellner brigade's secure position in the Times column 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 7 

was for the time being shaken by the charge of B. F. 
McGuinness, a Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford. His 
philosophical fusillade, though undramatic, was ex- 
tremely effective. He began impressively, "Newman had 
to meet the following argument: 'Dr. Newman teaches 
that truth is no virtue; his denials that he teaches this 
are not to be credited, since they come from a man who 
teaches that truth is no virtue.' He described it as an 
attempt to poison the wells. A subtler form of psycho- 
logical warfare has been discovered. You belabour your 
opponents for systematic disregard of truth and con- 
sistency, but you add later that there is no question of 
conscious dishonesty. Thus you can safely call them 
both knaves and fools. If they expostulate with your 
account of their views and practices, you reply: 'A 
typical evasion! . . . They would disown their own 
doctrines when criticized.' If you are charged with 
being abusive, your answer is: 1 have accused them 
of nothing but error!' In his letter . . . Mr. Gellner has 
even managed to use both kinds of riposte at the same 
time. The following are some of the phrases in his 
book that seem to me, in their context, tantamount to 
accusations of dishonesty: 'camouflage' (p. 163), 'eva- 
sion' (p. 164), 'pretence' (p. 169), 'spurious modesty' 
(p. 170), 'invoking rationalizations according to con- 
venience' (p. 171), '[devices] to cow the neophyte into 
submission' (p. 186), '[refusal to avow an opinion be- 
cause it] would ruin one's reputation,' 'insinuation' 
(p. 188), 'trick' (p. 189)." After this letter, I joined up 



8 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

with the minority — Ryle, Wisdom, and McGuinness. 

The following Monday, a letter appeared from Kevin 
Holland, an undergraduate at Worcester College, Oxford. 
Holland pealed precedents of "imputations of disin- 
genuousness," and he advanced as many facts in support 
of Gellner's position as McGuinness had advanced in 
support of Ryle's. "In the 'Philosophy of Leibniz' ( 1900), 
for example," he wrote, "Russell accused Leibniz of a 
kind of intellectual dishonesty. Forty-six years later, this 
charge was repeated in 'A History of Western Philoso- 
phy,' and Aquinas joined Leibniz in the dock. Ten years 
ago Professor Ryle published a book in which, with 
deliberate abusiveness,' he characterized a belief held 
by most ordinary people [that man has a soul in lus 
body] as 'the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine.' In 
spite of their 'abusiveness,' these three books are regarded 
by many as philosophic classics." I put down the Times 
reconverted by the undergraduate to the Russell-Gellner 
position that a philosophical work could call names, 
heap curses on philosophers, and still deserve to be 
read. It might even turn out to be a classic. For me 
the battle was over — and the victory, as I now saw 
it, went to the majority. As for Ryle's indiscretion — 
the initial injustice — it was more than corrected by the 
wide discussion in the newspaper. When the book 
arrived from Blackwell's, I would read it and make up 
my own mind about its worth. 

After a few days, when I looked at the Times again, 
there was a ponderous epistle, in dignified diction, from 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 9 

a Queen's Counsel, Sir Thomas Creed: "Socrates knew 
that a true philosophy thrives on blunt criticism and 
accusations. No one, however inept, who sat at the 
feet of the robust Oxford philosophers of 40 years ago 
was ever allowed to forget the scene when Socrates, 
taunted by an exasperated Thrasymachus with being 'a 
thorough quibbler,' with 'asking questions merely for the 
sake of malice,' with needing a nurse to stop his drivel- 
ling,' implored his accuser to abandon his proposed 
departure from the discussion so that a problem might be 
further examined between them. So far from refusing 
review Socrates forced further discussion on the recal- 
citrant Thrasymachus. ... Is Socrates forgotten in 
modern Oxford? Is Plato's 'Republic' no longer read? 
Many will hope that a purchase of Mr. Gellner's book 
will enable undergraduates to ask those awkward ques- 
tions and make those accusations and insinuations of 
'evasion,' 'camouflage,' 'pretence,' 'bamboozling,' 'trick,' 
which caused Oxford philosophy tutors of an earlier 
generation such unfeigned delight, a delight only ex- 
ceeded by the relish with which they exploded the 
arguments of their accusers." 

Next day, J. W. N. Watkins was in the paper. I knew 
something about him from the gossip of the under- 
graduates in my day, and pegged him immediately as 
Gellner's man. I had thought it was about time for 
someone to play the peacemaker, and Watkins' letter 
was a white flag: "Let all parties concede that "Words 
and Things' is often impolite. But having conceded this, 



io • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

let us remember that etiquette is not the most important 
thing in philosophy. The best way for linguistic phi- 
losophers to repel Mr. Gellner's attack is to overcome 
their squeamishness about its indecorousness and get 
down to the rebuttal of its arguments." A few days later, 
Alec Kassman, editor of the journal published by the 
august Aristotelian Society, faced up to some questions 
that had been bothering me. His analysis proceeded in 
the measured rhetoric of an intellectual editorial: "The 
essential issue is not whether or not Mr. Gellner's book 
is meritorious; nor whether or not it is abusive; nor 
whether or not, if abusive, it is therefore unfit for review: 
it is a fundamental one of professional ethics and its 
gravamen is contained in one protasis in Earl Russell's 
letter: Tf all books that do not endorse Professor Ryle's 
opinion are to be boycotted in the pages of Mind,' etc. 
The charge, therefore, is one of dishonorable conduct 
in that Professor Ryle abuses his editorial powers so as 
to suppress criticism of his own views. Clearly, the 
allegation in general terms is rhetorical: it is more than 
sufficient if a single case be substantiated. The reply 
is a direct traverse — that the review was declined on 
the ground that the book was found abusive. Earl Rus- 
sell flatly denies this: It is not "abusive" except in the 
sense of not agreeing with the opinions which he dis- 
cusses' (. . . Professor Ryle's among others). He offers 
no opinion on the instances indicated by the editor. 
The moral case has not progressed beyond this stage 
save that many . . . evidently wishing to support Earl 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 11 

Russell, depart from him upon this critical point. They 
(for example, Sir Thomas Creed . . .) seem mostly to 
claim that the book may well be abusive and no less 
fit for review on that account. It is quite possible that 
the editor's claim that an abusive book does not deserve 
a review in Mind is ill-founded or injudicious. That, 
however, is a side issue, if in fact the view is one which 
he genuinely held and acted on. The accusation is not 
that he is unduly sensitive, or unwise, but that he is 
biased against any critic as such, to the consequent 
detriment of his journal. . . . He publicly rebutted the 
specific charge in some detail, and Earl Russell has not 
replied. It is about time that he did; the pages of Mind 
are available to illustrate editorial policy. The allega- 
tion is a disagreeable one, and as serious as could be 
made against a philosopher in Professor Ryle's position. 
If Earl Russell can sustain it, he should show this. If 
he cannot, he should say so, that the reputation of both 
editor and journal may be cleared. That is the heart of 
the matter." 

Even though Mr. Kassman argued from a position 
opposed to mine — I was still sticking to the side of 
Russell-Gellner — I had to admit that he had succeeded 
in making the best possible defense for Ryle. I made 
up my mind not to look at any more letters from the 
philosophical combatants, but I could not help glancing 
at the succeeding issues of the Times just in case Russell 
should answer Mr. Kassman. Nineteen days after Russell 
had attacked the philosophical Establishment, he was 



12 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

back in print with a reply. "There are two different 
points at issue," Russell remarked, closing the contro- 
versy. "First, is anything in Mr. Gellner's book 'abusive'? 
Secondly, should a book containing anything abusive 
be, on that account alone, refused a review in Mind? 
As to the first point, 'abusive' is not a very precise 
word. ... I cannot . . . 'reply' . . . since Professor Ryle 
has not given a single instance of a single sentence 
which he considers abusive. It is up to Professor Ryle 
to quote at least one passage which he considers abusive. 
This, so far as I know, he has not yet done. As to the 
second and much more important point, I do not think 
that a serious piece of philosophical work should be 
refused a review even if it does contain passages which 
everybody would admit to be abusive. Take, for 
example, Nietzsche's 'Beyond Good and Evil.' In this 
book he speaks of 'that blockhead John Stuart Mill,' 
and after saying T abhor the man's vulgarity,' attributes 
to him the invention of the Golden Rule, saying: 'Such 
principles would fain establish the whole of human 
traffic upon mutual services, so that every action would 
appear to be a cash payment for something done to us. 
The hypothesis here is ignoble to the last degree.' I do 
not accept these opinions of Nietzsche's, but I think a 
philosophical editor would have been misguided if, on 
account of them, he had refused a review to 'Beyond 
Good and Evil,' since this was undoubtedly a serious 
piece of philosophical work. I note that neither Professor 
Ryle nor anyone else has denied that the same is true of 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 13 

Mr. Gellner's book." Firmly turning his back on the 
philosophical Establishment, Russell stumped resolutely 
away, carrying most of the medals. 

Through the fight over "Words and Things," I acquired 
a renewed and rather persistent interest in Oxford phi- 
losophy. Several English publications ran editorials 
about the conclusion of hostilities, and I read them 
eagerly, but they did not tell me very much about the 
philosophers working in England. The Times wrote its 
typical on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand leader. It 
said, on the one hand, that Gellner's book "caricatures 
its prey," and that his "barbs are not of the carefully 
polished kind." It said, on the other hand, that the carica- 
tured philosophers "stick closely to their lasts" with 
"enviable academic patronage," and regard "philosophi- 
cal problems as a sort of cerebral neurosis which it is 
their job to alleviate." The leader in the Economist was 
no more enlightening about the nature of this cerebral 
neurosis. "Why are modern philosophers hated — if they 
are?" it asked. "Hardly any of them, despite their other 
diversity, would claim that, as philosophers, they can 
tell us what to do. When other direction posts are falling 
down, philosophers are assumed to be the people who 
ought to be giving us directions about life. But if they 
cannot, they cannot." The tone of these two comments 
was fairly representative of the editorial voice of Britain's 
intellectual press. 

Gellner's book, when it finally arrived, was equally 
unsatisfactory. It was passionate, polemical, and dis- 



14 * Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

jointed, and grouped disparate thinkers indiscriminately 
— this much was apparent even to a novice like me. The 
editorials had bewildered me by their opaqueness; Gell- 
ner bewildered me by his flood of glaring light, which 
prevented me from seeing through to the philosophers. 
At the time of the turbulent correspondence, I was living 
in America, but I decided that on my next visit to 
England I would seek out some of the philosophers and 
talk to them about their activities. 

Sometime later, I found myself in London. I wrote 
to three or four philosophers for appointments and 
started my researches into contemporary philosophy by 
approaching an old Oxford friend of mine, even though 
he is by no means the most unprejudiced person about. 
As an undergraduate, he read Classics and Greats, the 
English-speaking world's most thorough study of classical 
literature, language, history, and philosophy, and — 
Greats' concession to our age — modern philosophy. All 
the time he was working at philosophy, he hated it, but 
he did it as a job, and because he was naturally brilliant, 
after his Schools (the final degree examination) he was 
courted to be a professional philosopher at Oxford; he 
remained true to his temperament, however, and turned 
down the offer, deciding to sit it out in London until he 
spotted a good opening in Oxford classics. In the mean- 
time, he has amused himself by composing Greek and 
Latin verses and prose, and turning the poetry of Hop- 
kins, Pound, Eliot, and Auden into lyrics in the style 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 15 

of the Greek Anthology or of Vergil, Horace, or Petronius. 
Having been trained in Latin and Greek since the age 
of six, he reads the literature of these languages almost 
faster than that of his own country. This classical, or 
language, education is characteristic of almost all the 
contemporary English philosophers. Aside from his Vic- 
torian training, the most typically philosophical thing 
about my friend is that he constantly smokes a pipe — 
a habit that has long been the sine qua non of English 
philosophers. Over some mulled claret late one eve- 
ning in his Chelsea back-street basement flat, he sur- 
veyed the subject of philosophy from the tremulous 
heights where it had led him, and he talked to me about 
it too frankly and unprofessionally to wish to be iden- 
tified, so I'll call him John. 

During their four years as undergraduates, the Greats 
men sit for altogether twenty-four three-hour papers, and 
John said he imagined that one-third of his time had 
been spent doing philosophy and preparing for examina- 
tions in logic and moral and classical philosophy. "The 
examination in classical philosophy was straightforward, 
since it meant, for the most part, reading the works of 
Plato and Aristotle," he explained. "For logic and moral 
philosophy we were supposed to do a certain amount 
of philosophical history, but in fact we did extremely 
little; we started by doing a tutorial on Descartes and 
followed it up by writing essays on Locke and Berkeley, 
and I believe we were meant to do a couple on Hume. 
But these historical people are just for exercise; they 



i6 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

need not be brought into the exam. I never once men- 
tioned them, and the examiners are really rather bored 
to have you do so, I think." John said that Greats men 
mostly read contemporary philosophers, because the 
philosophers at Oxford are concerned only with their 
own puzzles. They are not very much occupied with 
problems that interested earlier philosophers, even as 
little as forty years ago. John actually went into phi- 
losophical training when, after dabbling a little in the 
history of different schools, he read Ludwig Wittgen- 
stein's "Philosophical Investigations" and two books of 
A. J. Ayer's — "Language, Truth and Logic" and "The 
Problem of Knowledge," both of which he had to work 
through several times, once making notes all the way. 
He was then turned loose on P. F. Strawson's "Intro- 
duction to Logical Theory" and "Individuals: An Essay 
in Descriptive Metaphysics." He read only the first half 
of "Individuals" and then skimmed the rest, because he 
couldn't make much sense of it. After Strawson, to 
John's great relief, came easier volumes, on ethics, by 
Richard Hare and P. H. Nowell-Smith. But the bulk, 
and the most important part, of his study was articles 
in issues of Mind and the Proceedings of the Aristotelian 
Society — the richest repositories of Oxford philosophy. 
Since the main purpose of the Greats course is not 
to produce Professor I. Q. but to develop minds, John 
insisted that his handling of the Schools questions was 
more important than the list of books and articles he 
had read. Alas, once the results were published, as 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 17 

custom enjoined, all the Schools papers were burned, 
and John could reconstruct his brilliant answers only 
from memory. He considered his logic paper to be the 
paradigm, both because logic is the centerpiece of Oxford 
philosophy and because the principles of logic can be 
applied to other branches of the subject. Examiners 
therefore tend to read the logic paper with more care 
than any other. "Um," he began, recalling his paradigm, 
"there was a question I didn't do: Is my hearing a noise 
in my head as mechanical as the passing of a noise 
through a telephone?' The suggestion here is: Can our 
senses be explained away in mechanical terms? One 
that I did attempt but abandoned was 'Who is Socrates?' 
— the figure that people greeted when they saw it com- 
ing with the words 'Hello, Socrates,' or the person who 
was Socrates? You clearly can't answer, 'This is the 
body that went around with Socrates.' It's also not very 
nice to say, 'This is the body that went around as 
Socrates,' because it sounds as if it went around dis- 
guised as Socrates. Since I couldn't make up my mind 
about this, I couldn't write about it. But a stock old war 
horse of a question that I did complete was 'If I know 
that Y is the case, is it possible for me not to know 
that I know it?' And what I said about it must have 
been on these lines: To know that a thing is the case 
is not — this is very straightforward stuff — to have my 
mind in a certain position. If I know, for instance, that 
ice melts when the sun shines, this means that when 
the sun shines I don't go skating. In that case, it's per- 



i8 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

fectly possible that I don't consciously know that ice 
melts when the sun shines. But the question now arises 
of whether I know it unconsciously, and the answer is 
that it's possible never to have considered this. But to 
analyze it still further: Once you do ask yourself 
whether you know it unconsciously, can you give your- 
self the wrong answer? And I think the answer to this 
is — Now, I wonder what I said. Um. Well. Yes. The 
answer is that you sometimes say, 'I don't know whether 
I know it unconsciously; I don't know whether I really 
know it or whether I'm just guessing.' So far so good. 
But can you now go on to say, 1 thought I didn't know 
that ice melts when the sun shines, but then later on I 
found out I did'? My conclusion was that you could 
feel certain you didn't know it, and then when you 
came to it you found out you did. Take this example: 
Suppose they said 'Do you know how to tie such and 
such a knot?' and you said 'No.' And then when you 
were drowning they threw you a line and said 'Tie that 
knot on your life belt,' and you succeeded in tying it. 
When you were saved, they would say, 'Well, you did 
know how to tie it after all, didn't you?' And you could 
say either 'Yes, I did know all the time, but I was 
certain that I didn't before I started drowning' or T 
just found out how to do it — it came to me when you 
threw me the line.' " 

By now, John was so lost in philosophy that I couldn't 
have stopped him if I had wished to. He was puffing 
away madly at his pipe, and, without pausing, he went 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 19 

on to the next question on his logic paper. "My favorite 
in the paper, however, was the answer to another ques- 
tion: 'Could there be nothing between two stars?' All 
these Schools questions look very simple till you start 
thinking about them. What I said about this one was 
'There are two senses in which there can be nothing 
between two stars'— which is always a good way of 
going at such questions. On the one hand, if there is 
strictly not anything between two things, then they are 
together, and if two stars are adjacent, then, clearly, 
they aren't exactly two stars — they're perhaps a twin 
star. On the other hand — and this was my second 
point — if I were to say to you, 'There's absolutely 
nothing between Oxford and Birmingham,' meaning 
'There aren't any restaurants on the road,' or something 
of that sort, in this sense there isn't anything between 
two stars. A distinction thus emerges between nothing 
and a nothing, because when you answer the question 
What is there between two stars?' by saying 'There isn't 
anything between them,' you tend to think there is a 
nothing, a great lump of nothing, and there it is, holding 
the stars apart. This, actually, when you think about it, 
is nonsense, because you can't have 'a nothing,' which 
naturally led me to discuss the difference between space 
and a space. If you can't say that there's nothing 
between two stars, neither can you give much account 
of what there is between them. You tend to say there's 
a great expanse of Space, with a capital 'S,' and this is 
not very satisfactory, because the way you use the ordi- 



2o • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

nary word 'space' is to say there is a space between my 
table and my door, and that means you can measure it, 
and presumably there is a distance between table and 
door that can be measured. Whereas if you say there 
is a great lump of Space, that's like saying a great 
lump of nothing or of time, which, of course, is mis- 
leading. My conclusion was that in the loose sense, in 
which there is nothing between Oxford and Birming- 
ham, there could be nothing between two stars; that 
is, nothing you could give a name to, or nothing you 
thought it worth giving a name to, or nothing of the 
sort that interests you. But in the strict sense there can't 
be nothing between two stars, because if there were 
nothing between two stars, the stars would be on top of 
each other. How tedious, I agree, but I was just giving 
you this as an example of what Greats people actually 
do." 

We poured some claret, and drank a toast to John's 
success with Schools and, upon his insistence, to his 
wisdom in putting the whole subject behind him. He 
reluctantly drank also to my researches into Oxford 
philosophy. From his paradigm answer I had received 
the distinct impression that Oxford philosophy was 
simplified, if accurate, mental gymnastics, or, at best, 
intellectual pyrotechnics. But I wasn't sure I had 
grasped the essence, so I pressed him for his own view, 
and for a definition. He twitched nervously, offered me 
some more claret, went into a sort of trance, and said 
puzzling things like "Philosophy at Oxford is not one 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 21 

thing but many things" and "Some of the philosophers 
there are in one sense doing the same thing and yet in 
another sense doing quite different things." And how the 
things they did were the same and yet different could 
emerge only by talking about the philosophers individu- 
ally, and even then I was likely to get them confused. 
And although he didn't say it, he implied that the best 
thing for me to do would be to read Greats ( of which, of 
course, modern philosophy is just a part) and, if pos- 
sible, get acquainted with the philosophers themselves, 
as "people." He suggested meeting Gellner, as the man 
who had roughly broken the calm of Oxford philosophy; 
Russell, as a born controversialist who had served the 
mistresses of both science and art as no one else had in 
the twentieth century; Strawson, as an antidote to Russell 
( "Strawson is now far and away the most original thinker 
of what is often called the Oxford philosophy"); Ayer, 
as a brilliant thinker who had his pipeline from Central 
Europe and whom neither the Russells nor the Strawsons 
could overlook; Stuart Hampshire, as a philosopher with 
a civilized view of the whole subject — he had one foot 
in Continental thought, and the other in the whole 
history of philosophy; and Richard Hare, who repre- 
sented the impact of Oxford philosophy on morals — 
the rights and wrongs of living; and certainly one femi- 
nine philosopher, because women's invasion of the field 
was a sort of twentieth-century philosophical event. 
Then John went on to use what appeared to me English 
adaptations of Chinese proverbs, like "We are all squirrels 



22 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

in cages and we go round and round until we are 
shown the way out." And how was I to find my way 
out? We were back to reading Greats. To such direct 
questions as "Is Oxford philosophy, like geometry, 
suspended in a vacuum?" I received negative answers. 
"No," he said once, "in one sense we have as much real 
substance as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and are even 
doing their sorts of things. But in another sense ..." I 
wanted to find my way back to the clarity and confi- 
dence of his Schools answers, so I pried at his mind with 
ancient philosophers (who taught men, among other 
things, what to do and how to live) for my lenses. 
"Does each of the Oxford philosophers fancy himself a 
Socrates?" I asked. "I have never seen them hanging 
around street corners and athletic rooms, as Socrates did 
in Athens, with unwashed aristocratic young men, to 
cheer philosophical disputations and to jeer crowds of 
fools." 

"You're mixed up in a difficult business," he said, 
pouring me some claret. He went on to explain the 
connection between the ancients and the contemporaries. 
"The idea of Greats philosophy," he said, "is that after 
a few years of work — training in clear and precise 
thinking — the high-powered undergraduate can unravel 
any sort of puzzle more or less better than the next 
man. It makes a technique of being non-technical." He 
smiled. "Like Socrates, we assume the pose of knowing 
nothing except, of course, how to think, and that is the 
only respect in which we consider ourselves superior to 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 23 

other people. For us — as, to a certain degree, it was for 
him — philosophy is ordinary language ( but don't press 
me about this ordinary language'), and so, we choose 
to think, it ought not to be a technical business. Although 
he did not know it, Socrates, like us, was really trying 
to solve linguistic puzzles, and this is especially true 
in the longer dialogues of Plato — the 'Republic' and the 
T.aws'— where we learn quite a lot about Socrates' 
method and philosophy, filtered, of course, through his 
devoted pupil's mind. Some of the Pre-Socratics, who 
provided Plato and his master with many of their 
problems, were in difficulties about how one thing could 
be two things at once — say, a white horse. How could 
you say 'This is a horse and this is white' without saying 
'This one thing is two things'? Socrates and Plato 
together solved this puzzle by saying that what was 
meant by saying "The horse is white' was that the horse 
partook of the eternal, and perfect, Form horseness, 
which was invisible but really more horselike than any 
worldly Dobbin; and ditto about the Form whiteness: 
it was whiter than any earthly white. The theory of 
Form covered our whole world of ships and shoes and 
humpty-dumptys, which, taken all in all, were shadows 
— approximations of those invisible, perfect Forms. 
Using the sharp tools in our new linguistic chest, we can 
whittle Plato down to size and say that he invented 
his metaphysical world of Forms to solve the problem 
of different kinds of 'is'es; you see how an Oxford 
counterpart of Plato uses a simple grammatical tool in 



24 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

solving problems like this. Instead of conjuring up an 
imaginary edifice of Forms, he simply says there are 
two different types of 'is'es — one of predication and one 
of identity. The first asserts a quality: This is white.' 
The second points to the object named: 'This is a horse.' 
By this simple grammatical analysis we clear away the 
rubble of what were Plato's Forms. Actually, an Oxford 
philosopher is closer to Aristotle, who often, when de- 
fining a thing — for example, 'virtue' — asked himself, 
'Does the definition square with the ordinary views of 
men?' But while the contemporary philosophers do have 
antecedents, they are innovators in concentrating most 
of their attention on language. They have no patience 
with past philosophers: Why bother listening to men 
whose problems arose from bad grammar? At present, 
we are mostly preoccupied with language and grammar. 
No one at Oxford would dream of telling undergraduates 
what they ought to do, the kind of life they ought to 
lead." That was no longer an aim of philosophy, he 
explained, but even though philosophy had changed in 
its aims and methods, people had not, and that was the 
reason for the complaining undergraduates, for the bitter 
attacks of Times' correspondents, and even, perhaps, for 
his turning his back on philosophy. 

Both of us more or less stopped thinking at the same 
time, very much as one puts down an intellectual work 
when thinking suddenly becomes impossible. "How 
about some claret?" both of us said. The decanter was 
empty. We vigorously stirred some more claret, sugar, 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 25 

and spices in a caldron and put the brew on the gas 
ring, and while we were waiting for a drink, we listened 
to a portion of "The Magic Flute." I felt very much 
like Tamino at the Temple of Wisdom, except that my 
resolution was sinking. The claret revived it, and, with 
curtains drawn against the night, I pressed on with my 
researches. 

Talking with John, I came to feel that present-day 
Oxford philosophy is a revolutionary movement — at 
least when it is seen through the eyes of past philoso- 
phers. I asked him about the fathers of the revolution. 
Again he was evasive. Strictly speaking, it was fatherless, 
except that Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and Ludwig 
Wittgenstein — all of them, as it happened, Cambridge 
University figures — "were responsible for the present 
state of things at Oxford." Blowing pipe smoke in my 
direction, John continued, "I think the aspect of Russell's 
philosophy that will be remembered is his logical atom- 
ism, which was proclaimed to the world in a series of 
lectures in 1918; the driving force of these lectures was 
a distrust of ordinary speech. He argued at that time 
that you had to get away from ordinary language (and 
disastrous grammatical errors of past philosophers — 'is'es 
again), which did nothing but foster misleading notions, 
and construct a language on a mechanical model — like 
the symbolic logic of his and Alfred North Whitehead's 
'Principia Mathematica,' published in 1910 — that would 
in turn correspond to the logical structure of the uni- 
verse. He thought that you could take any statement 



26 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

and break it up into its atomic parts, for each part 
would have a meaning, or a reference, or both. What 
he was trying to do was to build a formal logical sys- 
tem, so that you could do arguments and logic on com- 
puters. But it is now thought that, among other things, 
he confused meaning and reference, and also broke up 
sentences in a totally wrong way, and therefore his phi- 
losophy is considered to be mainly of historical interest." 
By now, I felt very much as though I were inside a 
Temple of Knowledge, if not of Wisdom, and I asked 
John if he would like to tell me a little bit about Moore, 
too. He said he wouldn't like to but he would do it, 
because he supposed he had to. "Moore was a common- 
sense philosopher," he began. "Almost unphilosophically 
so. His most famous article was 'A Defense of Common 
Sense,' which was mostly concerned with morality. His 
common-sense view was, on the surface, very much like 
Dr. Johnson's: I am certain that my hand is here because 
I can look at it, touch it, bang it against the table. 
While he did distinguish between a naturalistic state- 
ment ('The grass is green') and a non-naturalistic state- 
ment ('God is good'), he held that we know both kinds 
of statements to be true by intuition. ( Goodness was not 
naturalistic, like green, because it could neither be 
analyzed in terms of any basic qualities, like greenness 
or hardness, nor was it itself a basic quality.) On the 
question 'How do I know the grass is green or God is 
good?,' he agreed with most people, who would reply, 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 27 

'Because I know it's so, and if you don't know it's so, 
too bad!'" 

John said that Oxford people owed their faith in 
ordinary language and ordinary men to Moore. But it 
was Wittgenstein who made John puff furiously at his 
pipe. "There are two Wittgensteins, not one," he said. 
"There is the Wittgenstein of 'Tractatus Logico-Phil- 
osophicus,' published in 1921, and the totally different 
Wittgenstein of 'Philosophical Investigations,' printed 
posthumously, a quarter of a century later. I'm almost 
certain to give a misinterpretation of Wittgenstein," John 
went on humbly but vigorously, "but in the 'Tractatus' 
he was trying to find out the basic constituents of the 
world, and in a way his 'Tractatus' attempt was remi- 
niscent of Russell's 1918 try. According to the first 
Wittgenstein, the world was ultimately made up of 
basic facts, and these were mirrored in language: accord- 
ingly, a proposition was a picture of the world. Now, 
basic facts were made up of basic objects and basic 
qualities. The basic objects were sense data — for ex- 
ample, a patch before my eyes, or a feeling in my leg. 
But these could not exist without having some definite 
quality. I mean, you could not just have a patch before 
your eyes — it had to be some definite color. And you 
could not just have a feeling in your leg — it had to be 
some definite sort of feeling. When you attached a 
particular color to the patch or specified the sort of 
feeling in your leg, you had basic facts, which language 



28 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

mirrored or could mirror. An example of a basic sen- 
tence that mirrored a basic fact was 'Here, now, green,' 
meaning that you had in front of your eyes a sense 
datum that was green. Just as the world was essentially 
built out of these basic facts, so language was essentially 
built out of basic-fact sentences. The business of the 
philosopher was to break down the complex statements 
used in language — like 'My wife sees a green table'— 
into its constituent parts. In the 'Investigations,' Wittgen- 
stein completely gave up his 'Tractatus' ideas, and 
thought that philosophical perplexity arose because 
people abused the ordinary ways of speech and used a 
rule that was perfectly all right in its own area to cover 
another area, and so they got into a muddle; he thought 
that you could disentangle the puzzle by pointing out 
that they were misusing ordinary language. As he wrote, 
'Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our 
intelligence by means of language.' It was like showing, 
in his most quoted phrase, 'the fly the way out of the 
fly-bottle.' If in the 'Tractatus' Wittgenstein was like 
Russell, in 'Philosophical Investigations' he was like 
Moore, a common-sense man. Wittgenstein now thought 
that you couldn't ask what the structure of reality was; 
you could only analyze the language in which people 
talked about it. A lot of different types of structure 
were found in language, and it was impossible to assimi- 
late them all under any one heading. He regarded the 
various ways of expression as so many different pieces 
in a game of chess, to be manipulated according to 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 29 

certain rules. It was quite wrong to apply the rules of 
one set of statements to another, and he distinguished 
several types of statements — for example, common-sense 
statements about physical objects, statements about one's 
own thoughts and intentions, and moral propositions. 
It was the philosopher's job to find out the rules of the 
language game. Suppose you had been brought up from 
a small child to play football. By the time you were 
sixteen, you played it quite according to the rules. 
You probably didn't know the names of the various 
rules or what, exactly, they said, but you never made 
a mistake about them, and when anyone asked you 'Why 
do you play this way, and not that?* you just said 'Well, 
I always have played this way.' Now, it would be pos- 
sible for someone else to come along as an observer and 
write down what rules you were playing by, if he 
observed you long enough. Like the observer on the 
football ground, a philosopher should primarily investi- 
gate what the rules used for communication are." 

Just when I thought I had absorbed all this, John said, 
"I hope I haven't left you with the impression that there 
is necessarily a firm connection between Russell, Moore, 
and Wittgenstein, on the one hand, and present-day 
Oxford philosophy, on the other. Some people would 
argue that the late J. L. Austin, in the fifties White's 
Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, had as much 
to do with shaping thinking at the university as anyone 
else, including Wittgenstein. Also, you mustn't overlook 
the role of logical positivism in all this." John said he 



30 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

would prefer not to say anything about Austin, because 
he had very mixed feelings about him. But logical 
positivism — well, that was another matter. A. J. Ayer, 
recently appointed Wykeham Professor of Logic at 
Oxford, was the first Englishman to proclaim the princi- 
ples of logical positivism to the English intellectual 
world. After his graduation from Oxford, in 1932, he 
went to Vienna and made the acquaintance of some of 
the most famous European philosophers — members of 
the so-called Vienna Circle — who had come together 
to discuss, among other things, Wittgenstein's "Trac- 
tatus." Ayer made his reputation for life by returning 
to England six months later and writing "Language, 
Truth and Logic," a tract of logical positivism. "If I may 
put it so," John concluded, with a smile, "he has pattered 
all around the kennel, but he's always been on his 
Viennese leash." 

I knew it was getting late, but I asked John for a little 
more philosophy, for the road. We had some more 
claret, and before we packed up for the night, he 
quickly served up logical positivism. 

The logical positivism of the thirties, I learned, was 
a skeptical movement. It claimed that any statement 
that could not be verified by sense experience was mean- 
ingless. Thus, all statements about God, all statements 
about morality, all value judgments in art were logically 
absurd. For example, "Murder is wrong" could only 
mean, at best, "I disapprove of murder," or, still more 
precisely, "Murder! Ugh!" What made a statement like 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 31 

"There is a dog in my neighbor's garden" meaningful 
was that I could verify it. If I went into the garden, I 
could see the dog, beat it with a stick, get bitten, hear 
it bark, and watch it chew on an old bone. 

The room was thick with smoke by now, for John, in 
a very un-English way, had kept all the windows closed. 
Both of us were tired. He put on some coffee, and we 
chatted about this and that, after which, instead of 
trundling to my own lodgings, I dossed down on his 
sofa. 

The next day, I hung around John's room, trying 
to sort out my thoughts after the injections of Oxford 
philosophy administered by the sharp mind of my 
friend, until the time came for me to call on Gellner, 
the first philosopher on my list. During the Times' siege 
of Ryle, I had been first pro-Gellner, then anti, then 
pro, but John had watched the whole affair with the 
detachment of a philosopher. He gave me a rationalizing 
explanation: Good editors were eccentric people, and 
potentates who ruled scholarly periodicals tended to be 
even more eccentric than their counterparts on popular 
magazines. Then he handed me a copy of G. E. Moore's 
(autobiography opened to a passage about Moore's 
editorship of Mind, which made me shift my weight 
about uncomfortably on the Gellner-Ryle seesaw. "In 
1920, on Stout's retirement from the Editorship of Mind, 
an office which he had held since the beginning of the 
'New Series' in 1892," I read, "I was asked to succeed 



32 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

him as Editor; I . . . have now been Editor for more 
than twenty years. ... I think . . . that I have suc- 
ceeded in being impartial as between different schools 
of philosophy. I have tried, in accordance with the 
principles laid down when Mind was started and re- 
peated by Stout in the Editorial which he wrote at the 
beginning of the New Series, to let merit, or, in other 
words, the ability which a writer displays, and not the 
opinions which he holds, be the sole criterion of whether 
his work should be accepted. . . . The most noticeable 
difference between Mind under me and Mind under 
Stout seems to me to be that under me the number of 
book reviews has considerably diminished. This has 
been partly deliberate: under Stout there were a great 
number of very short reviews, and I have thought 
(perhaps wrongly) that very short reviews were hardly 
of any use. But it is partly, I am afraid, owing to lack 
of thoroughly businesslike habits on my part, and partly 
also because, knowing what a tax I should have felt it 
myself to have to write a review, I have been shy about 
asking others to undertake the task. Whatever the 
reason, I am afraid it is the case that I have failed 
to get reviewed a good many books which ought to 
have been reviewed." 

After reading these honest words of Professor Moore 
— a good editor and a perfect gentleman, who was 
fanatical about avoiding prejudices — I went to see Gell- 
ner with an open mind. I got on a bus that would take 
me to his home, in S.W. 15, and an hour later I found 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 33 

myself on the edge of a middle-middle-class settlement 
where houses stood out sparsely, like so many road 
signs. Trucks and broken-down little cars sluggishly 
wheeled themselves through the growing suburbia car- 
rying vegetables, meat, and a few people to the city. 
A man was standing in front of Gellner's house, holding 
a baby in his arms. It was Gellner. "Come in! Come 
in!" he said. Gellner (a man of thirty -four) proved to 
be dark, of medium height, and casually dressed. His 
hair was uncombed, and he had the air of an offbeat 
intellectual. We went inside, and he introduced me 
to his wife. He was reluctant to talk philosophy while 
his wife and the infant were in the room, so we chatted 
about this and that, and I learned that he was born in 
Paris of Czech parentage, spent his boyhood in Prague, 
and had come to England with his family just before 
the war. 

When Mrs. Gellner took the baby upstairs, he diffi- 
dently pointed out twin tape recorders in a corner of 
the living room. "These Grundig machines produced 
'Words and Things,' " he said. "The Memorette recorded 
my words and a secretary at the London School of 
Economics, thanks to this magical Stenorette, trans- 
formed my voice into typed copy." He spoke in a 
quick and rather harassed way, as though the tape re- 
corders were at that moment catching his words on an 
ever-shrinking spool. 

"I was going through the Times correspondence the 
other day," he went on. "I have kept a complete file 



34 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

of it. I was elated to find that most of the people lined 
up on my side." 

As far as Gellner was concerned, I gathered, all phi- 
losophers at Oxford were more or less alike, since all 
of them were interested only in linguistic analysis. 
("Oxford philosophy," he said, was a misnomer, since 
it grouped the philosophers by the setting of their 
practice, rather than by the linguistic method which 
they all shared in common.) Instead of regarding phi- 
losophy as an investigation of the universe — or knowl- 
edge as a sort of inventory of the universe ("There are 
more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are 
dreamt of in your philosophy"), to which wise men 
from the beginning of time had been adding — the 
linguistic philosophers handed over the universe to the 
students of the natural sciences and limited philosophy 
to an inquiry into rules of language, the gateway to 
human knowledge. They analyzed language to deter- 
mine what could and could not be said and therefore 
in a sense what could and could not exist. Any employ- 
ment of words that did not conform to the rules of 
dictionary usage was automatically dismissed as non- 
sense. "But I answer," Gellner said, "all words cannot 
be treated as proper nouns." To clarify his point, he 
read a passage from one of his Third Programme broad- 
casts: "The . . . reason why the dictionary does not 
have scriptural status [according to him, all linguistic 
philosophers use the Oxford English Dictionary as the 
Holy Writ of philosophy] is that most expressions are 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 35 

not [proper] names; their meaning is not really exhausted 
by the specification of their use and the paradigmatic 
uses that occur in the dictionary. Their meaning is 
usually connected in a complicated way with a whole 
system of concepts or words or ways of thinking: and 
it makes perfectly good sense to say that a word, unlike 
a name, is mistakenly used in its paradigmatic use. It 
makes sense to say this although we have not done any 
rechristening and are still continuing to use it in its old 
sense." He pegged the rest of his criticism on the prac- 
titioners of linguistic philosophy. 

"Out of the bunch of Oxford philosophers," he said, 
"I suppose I have the strongest aversion to Austin, who 
in some ways typified the things I dislike about them 
most. I found his lecture technique a creeping barrage, 
going into endless detail in a very slow and fumbling 
way. He used this style to browbeat people into accept- 
ance; it was a kind of brainwashing. The nearest I got 
to him was on some committees that we were both mem- 
bers of. I always took some trouble not to get to know 
him personally, because I disliked his philosophy and I 
knew that sooner or later I would attack him and I didn't 
wish to be taken as a personal enemy. With Austin, I 
had an impression of someone very strongly obsessed 
with never being wrong, and using all kinds of dialectical 
devices to avoid being wrong. He intimidated me with 
his immense caginess; like Wittgenstein, he never stated 
the doctrines he was trying to get across — or, actually, 
the crucial thing was stated in informal sayings, which 



36 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

never got into print. Thus he artfully shielded himself 
from challengers. To Oxford philosophers Wittgenstein, 
like Austin, is another little god who can do no wrong. 
They like Wittgenstein mainly because he gave up his 
achievements in the technical field and his power as a 
mathematical magician for the ordinary language of a 
plain man — or, rather, the kind of ordinary language 
that an undergraduate who has studied the classics in 
Greats can take to pieces." 

Linguistic philosophers were thought to alleviate cere- 
bral neurosis, Gellner said. To understand them, he be- 
lieved, one had to turn to sociology, his present profes- 
sional interest. "About the social milieu from which 
these Oxford philosophers arose," he went on rapidly, 
"I can say nothing except what I have already said in 
the ninth chapter of my book. On second thought, per- 
haps there is one improvement that, on the basis of my 
reading of C. P. Snow, I could have made in my chap- 
ter." Gellner said that had Snow's brilliant pamphlet 
"The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution" existed 
when Gellner wrote his book, he would have invoked it, 
for Snow's characterization of the two cultures was right 
up his philosophical alley. "The milieu of linguistic phi- 
losophers is a curious one," Gellner continued. "As Sir 
Charles, in his pamphlet, points out, there are these two 
cultures — a literary one and a scientific one — and tradi- 
tionally the literary one has always enjoyed more pres- 
tige. But for some time it has been losing ground; tech- 
nology and science have been taking its place. Only 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 37 

in Oxford has the literary culture managed to retain an 
unchallenged supremacy. There Greats still remains at 
the apex of the disciplines, and within Greats the bright- 
est young men are often selected to become philosophers. 
But is there any intellectual justification for this self- 
appointed aristocracy? Is there any widespread theory 
that anybody can subscribe to as to why the Greats 
form of philosophy is the highest sort of activity? I say 
no. The literary culture would have perished a long 
time ago if it weren't for the social snobbery of Oxford 
and her self -perpetuating philosophers. Linguistic phi- 
losophy is nothing more than a defense mechanism of 
gentleman intellectuals, which they use in order to con- 
ceal the fact that they have nothing left to do." 

Turning to his Stenorette tape recorder, Gellner asked 
me, "Would you like to hear something I was dictating 
this morning? It really sums up my position, and in a 
sense you could say it is the essence of 'Words and 
Things.'" I nodded, and he flicked a switch. "Philos- 
ophers in the past were proud of changing the world 
and providing a guide for political life," the voice whis- 
pered through the little speaker of the tape recorder. 
"About the turn of the century, Oxford was a nursery 
for running an empire; now it is a nursery for leaving 
the world exactly as it is. The linguistic philosophers 
have their job cut out for them — to rationalize the loss 
of English power. This is the sociological background 
which is absolutely crucial to the understanding of lin- 
guistic philosophers." 



38 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

Gellner stopped the machine and said, "There you 
have my whole sociological analysis. Full stop. In 
'Words and Things,' I used Thorstein Veblen for the 
sociology of the philosophers. If I were writing the 
book now, I would use Veblen and Sir Charles." 

Gellner picked up a copy of Commentary from the 
coffee table and read me a sentence or two from its re- 
view of his book, which implied that he had written 
"Words and Things" because he had failed to get a cushy 
job at Oxford. "Dash it, job-hungry people do not write 
my sort of book," he said. "How nasty can you really 
get? As far as professional philosophy is concerned, 
*Words and Things' ruined my future rather than se- 
cured it. I attacked the philosophical Establishment, 
and as long as the present philosophers remain in power, 
I will never have a position at an Oxford college. 
Whether I will be accepted again in philosophical cir- 
cles remains to be seen." 

Gellner offered to drive me back to the city. For 
transportation he had a small truck, which he used for 
getting to the London School of Economics when he 
missed his commuter train. We bounced noisily along 
the road, Gellner making himself heard intermittently 
over the engine clatter. He had more or less given up 
formal philosophy until the philosophers should once 
again address themselves to "great issues." While wait- 
ing for the change, Gellner was studying the Berbers 
of Morocco. He visited them now and again and ob- 
served their social habits. He considered himself a syn- 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 39 

optic thinker — one who saw things as a whole, from 
the viewpoint of their ultimate significance. He was not 
a softheaded visionary, and his education at Balliol, tradi- 
tionally the most rebellious Oxford college, had prepared 
him to battle with the philosophical Establishment for 
his unpopular views. He thought that with "Words and 
Things" he had galvanized men of good sense into tak- 
ing his side. 

Gellner left me reflective. I was sorry that my first 
philosopher should dislike his colleagues so much. I was 
sorry, too, that he should turn out to be a harassed man. 
But then I knew well that prophets are made of strange 
stuff. 

Next day, I walked round to Chelsea to have a talk 
with Earl Russell at his house. He opened the door 
himself, and I instantly recognized him as a philosopher 
by his pipe, which he took out of his mouth to say, "How 
do you do?" Lord Russell looked very alert. His mop 
of white hair, swept carelessly back, served as a digni- 
fied frame for his learned and animated eyes — eyes that 
gave life to a wintry face. He showed me into his ground- 
floor study, which was sandwiched between the garden 
and the street. It was a snug room, full of books on a 
large number of subjects: mathematics, logic, philosophy, 
history, politics. The worn volumes stood as an impres- 
sive testament to his changing intellectual interests; they 
were wedged in with rows of detective stories in glass- 
fronted Victorian bookcases. "Ah!" he said. "It's just 



40 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

four! I think we can have some tea. I see my good 
wife has left us some tea leaves." His "ee" sounds were 
exaggerated. He put a large Victorian kettle on the gas 
ring. It must have contained little water, for it sang like 
a choir in a Gothic cathedral. Russell ignored the plain- 
song and talked, using his pipe, which went out repeat- 
edly, as a baton to lead the conversation. Now and again 
he reached out to take some tobacco with unsteady fin- 
gers from a tin. When we were comfortably settled with 
our tea, he began interviewing me. Why was I concerned 
with philosophy when my life was in peril? I should 
jolly well be doing something about the atomic bomb, 
to keep the Russians and Americans from sending us all 
up in flames. Anyone might personally prefer death to 
slavery, but only a lunatic would think of making this 
choice for humanity. 

At present, when he wasn't working on nuclear dis- 
armament, he used detective stories for an opiate. "I 
have to read at least one detective book a day," he said, 
"to drug myself against the nuclear threat." His favorite 
crime writers were Michael Innes and Agatha Christie. 
He preferred detective stories to novels because he found 
that whodunits were more real than howtodoits. The 
characters in detective stories just did things, but the 
heroes and heroines in novels thought about things. If 
you compared sex scenes in the two media, in his sort 
of pastime they got into and out of bed with alacrity, 
but in the higher craft the characters were circumspect; 
they took pages even to sit on the bed. Detective stories 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 41 

were much more lifelike. The paradox was that authors 
of thrillers did not try to be real, and therefore they 
were real, while the novelists tried to be real and there- 
fore were unreal. The things we most believed to be 
unreal — nuclear war — might turn out to be real, and 
the things we took to be the most real — philosophy — 
unreal. 

The savior in him was eventually tamed by the tea, 
and the elder statesman of philosophy reminisced a bit 
about Moore and Wittgenstein, his Cambridge juniors, 
and said a few caustic words about today's philosophers 
in Oxford and Cambridge. "I haven't changed my philo- 
sophical position for some time," he said. "My model is 
still mathematics. You see, I started out being a Hegelian. 
A tidy system it was. Like its child, Communism, it gave 
answers to all the questions about life and society. In 
1898 (how long ago that was!), well, almost everyone 
seemed to be a Hegelian. Moore was the first to climb 
down. I simply followed him. It was mathematics that 
took me to logic, and it was logic that led me away from 
Hegel. Once we applied rigorous logic to Hegel, he be- 
came fragmentary and puerile." 

I asked if he had based his system of mathematical 
logic on the belief that language had a structure. 

"No, it is not so much that I believe language has a 
structure," he said. "I simply think that language is often 
a rather messy way of expressing things. Take a state- 
ment like 'All men are mortal.' Now, that has an unnec- 
essary implication when stated in words; that is, that 



42 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

there are men, that men exist. But if you translate this 
statement into mathematical symbols, you can do away 
with any unnecessary implication. About Moore — the 
thing I remember most was his smile. One had only 
to see it to melt. He was such a gentleman. With him, 
manners were everything, and now you know what I 
mean by 'gentleman.' To be Left, for example, in politics 
just wasn't done.' That was to take something too seri- 
ously. I suppose present-day Oxford philosophy is gen- 
tlemanly in that sense — it takes nothing seriously. You 
know the best remark Moore ever made? I asked him 
one time who his best pupil was, and he said 'Wittgen- 
stein.' I said 'Why?' 'Because, Bertrand, he is my only 
pupil who always looks puzzled.' " Lord Russell chuckled. 
"That was such a good remark, such a good remark. It 
was also, incidentally, very characteristic of both Moore 
and Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was always puzzled. 
After Wittgenstein had been my pupil for five terms, he 
came to me and said, 'Tell me, sir, am I a fool or a wise 
man?' I said, 'Wittgenstein, why do you want to know?' 
— perhaps not the kindest thing to say. He said, 'If I am 
a fool, I shall become an aeronaut — if I am a wise man, 
a philosopher.' I told him to do a piece of work for me 
over the vacation, and when he came back I read the 
first sentence and said, 'Wittgenstein, you shall be a 
philosopher.' I had to read just a sentence to know it. 
Wittgenstein became one. When his 'Tractatus' came 
out, I was wildly excited. I think less well of it now. 
At that time, his theory that a proposition was a picture 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 43 

of the world was so engaging and original. Wittgenstein 
was really a Tolstoy and a Pascal rolled into one. You 
know how fierce Tolstoy was; he hated competitors. If 
another novelist was held to be better than he, Tolstoy 
would immediately challenge him to a duel. He did 
precisely this to Turgenev, and when Tolstoy became a 
pacifist he was just as fierce about his pacifism. And you 
know how Pascal became discontented with mathematics 
and science and became a mystic; it was the same with 
Wittgenstein. He was a mathematical mystic. But after 
'Tractatus' he became more and more remote from me, 
just like the Oxford philosophers. I have stopped read- 
ing Oxford philosophy. I have gone on to other things. 
It has become so trivial. I don't like most Oxford philoso- 
phers. Don't like them. They have made trivial some- 
thing very great. Don't think much of their apostle Ryle. 
He's just another clever man. In any case, you have to 
admit he behaved impetuously in publicly refusing a re- 
view of the book. He should have held it over for two 
years and then printed a short critical review with Gell- 
ner's name misspelled. To be a philosopher now, one 
needs only to be clever. They are all embarrassed when 
pressed for information, and I am still old-fashioned and 
like information. Once, I was dining at Oxford — Exeter 
College High Table — and asked the assembled Fellows 
what the difference between liberals and conservatives 
was in their local politics. Well, each of the dons pro- 
duced brilliant epigrams and it was all very amusing, 
but after half an hour's recitation I knew no more about 



44 ' Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

liberals and conservatives in the college than I had at 
the beginning. Oxford philosophy is like that. I have 
respect for Ayer; he likes information, and he has a first- 
class style." 

Lord Russell explained that he had two models for his 
own style — Milton's prose and Baedeker's guidebooks. 
The Puritan never wrote without passion, he said, and 
the cicerone used only a few words in recommending 
sights, hotels, and restaurants. Passion was the voice of 
reason, economy the signature of brilliance. As a young 
man, Russell wrote with difficulty. Sometimes Milton 
and Baedeker remained buried in his prose until it had 
been redone ten times. But then he was consoled by 
Flaubert's troubles and achievements. Now, for many 
years past, he had learned to write in his mind, turning 
phrases, constructing sentences, until in his memory they 
grew into paragraphs and chapters. Now he seldom 
changed a word in his dictated manuscript except to slip 
in a synonym for a word repeated absent-mindedly. 
"When I was an undergraduate," he said, sucking his 
pipe, "there were many boys cleverer than I, but I sur- 
passed them, because, while they were degage, I had 
passion and fed on controversy. I still thrive on opposi- 
tion. My grandmother was a woman of caustic and biting 
wit. When she was eighty-three, she became kind and 
gentle. I had never found her so reasonable. She noticed 
the change in herself, and, reading the handwriting on 
the wall, she said to me, 'Bertie, I'll soon be dead.' And 
she soon was." 



A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence • 45 

After tea, Lord Russell came to the door with me. I 
told him about my intention of pressing on with my re- 
searches at Oxford. He wrung my hand and chuckled. 
"Most Oxford philosophers know nothing about science/' 
he said. "Oxford and Cambridge are the last medieval 
islands — all right for first-class people. But their security 
is harmful to second-class people — it makes them insular 
and gaga. This is why English academic life is creative 
for some but sterile for many." 



HAPTER TW 



The Open Door 



MY first call in Oxford was at the house of Richard 
Hare, of Balliol, who, at forty-two, is one of the 
more influential Oxford teachers of philosophy. His 
evangelistic zeal for the subject consumes him. He is 
renowned throughout the university for his kindness, for 
his selfless teaching, and for writing an exciting book in 
his field, "The Language of Morals," published in 1952. 
He is also famous for his eccentric tastes, which I en- 
countered for myself while lunching with him. When I 
arrived, he was sitting in a caravan — a study on wheels 
— in the front garden of his house, reading a book. He 
hailed me from the window, and said, "I find it much 
easier to work here than in the house. It's quieter, don't 
you agree?" He looked like a monk, though he wasn't 
dressed like one; he wore a well-made dark tweed jacket 
and well-pressed dark-gray flannel trousers — and he had 
his legendary red and green tie on. After talking for a 
few minutes through the door of the caravan, we went 



46 



The Open Door • 47 

into the house and joined Mrs. Hare and their four chil- 
dren for lunch. I felt relaxed at his table. His children 
spoke in whispers and were remarkably well-mannered. 
His wife was douce and poised. I had been told that 
invitations to his country-house reading parties during 
vacations were coveted by able undergraduate philoso- 
phers at Oxford, and now I could see why. 

At the table, we talked about Hare's interests. "I like 
music very much — it's one of my principal relaxations," 
he said at one point. "I listen in a very catholic way to 
all kinds of music. I deliberately don't have a gramo- 
phone, because I think it's better for one to catch what 
there is on the wireless instead of choosing one's own 
things. I take in quite a lot of modern stuff, although 
I don't enjoy it as a whole. I listen to it in the hope 
that one day I will. Also, on the wireless I have to listen 
to Beethoven. I'd never go and get a gramophone record 
of Beethoven. As a schoolboy, I liked him very much, 
but when the war began I was — as I think most of us 
were, or anybody at all sensitive — very troubled by war 
and whether one should be a pacifist. And I can't ex- 
plain why, but it suddenly became clear to me, listen- 
ing to Beethoven and to Bach and comparing them, that 
as food, musical food, for anybody in that kind of situa- 
tion, Beethoven was exceedingly superficial and insipid. 
But principally superficial. To be precise, it appeared 
to me one wintry day in 1940 that his music rang ex- 
ceedingly hollow." 

At the end of lunch, Mrs. Hare told us she would 



48 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

bring us coffee in the caravan, and I followed Hare to 
his wagon retreat. 

I asked him if there was a key to linguistic philosophy. 

"No," he said forcefully. "There isn't a method that 
any fool can get hold of in order to do philosophy as we 
do it. The most characteristic thing about Oxford philos- 
ophy is that we insist on clear thinking, and I suppose 
scientists and philosophers are agreed on what consti- 
tutes a good argument. Clear thinking, of course, is 
especially important in my own field of moral philosophy, 
because almost any important moral question arises in 
a confused form when one first meets it. But most of 
the undergraduates who come up to Oxford are not going 
to be professional philosophers; they're going to be civil 
servants and parsons and politicians and lawyers and 
businessmen. And I think the most important thing I 
can do is to teach them to think lucidly — and linguistic 
analysis is frightfully useful for this. You have only to 
read the letters to the Times — unfortunately I forget 
them as soon as I've read them, or I'd give you an exam- 
ple — to come across a classic instance of a problem that 
is made clearer for one, and perhaps would have been 
made clearer for the writer, by the ability to take state- 
ments to pieces. My own hobby is town planning. I read 
quite a lot of the literature, and it's perfectly obvious that 
immense harm is done — I mean not just confusion, aca- 
demic confusion, but physical harm, roads being built in 
the wrong places and that sort of thing — because people 
don't think clearly enough. In philosophy itself, unclear 



The Open Door • 49 

thinking has led to a lot of mistakes, and I think it is 
my job to take pupils through these mistakes and show 
them the blind alleys in the city of philosophy. They can 
go on from there. Careful attention to language is, I 
think, the best way not to solve problems but to under- 
stand them. That is what, as philosophers, we are mainly 
concerned with." 

I asked how, exactly, attention to language helped in 
understanding problems. 

"Suppose I said, 'That chair over there is both red 
and not red,' " he replied. "This would make you say, 
'That can't be right.' Well, I say partly it's the same 
sort of thing that would make you say 'That can't be 
right' if you wrote down 'fullfil,' spelled f-u-l-l-f-i-1. If 
you wrote down 'fullfil' that way and you saw it on a 
page, you would say, 'That can't be right.' Well, this 
is because you've learned, you see, to do a thing called 
spelling 'fulfill,' and you've also learned to do a thing 
called using the word 'not.' And if somebody says to 
you, 'That is both red and not red,' he's doing something 
that you learned not to do when you learned the word 
'not.' He has offended against a certain rule of skill (if 
you like to call it that), which you mastered when you 
became aware of how to use the word 'not.' Of course, 
learning to use the word 'not' isn't exactly like learning 
how to spell, because it's also knowing something about 
how to reason. It's mastering a very elementary piece 
of logic. The words for 'not' in different languages are 
the same, but not quite the same; there are variations. 



50 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

For example, in Greek you've double negatives; you say, 
'I have not been neither to the temple nor to the theatre.' 
This is why Oxford philosophy is based both on simple 
reasoning and on exhaustive research into language — in 
this particular case, into the word 'not.'" 

Hare's ideas about moral philosophy, I learned, were 
influenced by his experiences in Japanese prison camps 
in Singapore and Thailand, where all values had to be 
hewn from the rock of his own conscience. In the arti- 
ficial community of the prison, he came to realize that 
nothing was "given" in society, that everyone carried his 
moral luggage in his head; every man was born with his 
conscience, and this, rather than anything in society, he 
found, was the source of morality. (As he once wrote, 
"A prisoner-of-war community is a society which has to 
be formed, and constantly re-formed, out of nothing. 
The social values, whether military or civil, which one 
has brought with one can seldom be applied without 
scrutiny to this very strange, constantly disintegrating 
situation.") Indeed, the rough draft of his first book, 
"The Language of Morals" — on the strength of which 
he was eventually elected a Fellow of Balliol — was ham- 
mered out in the grim and barren prison compounds. 
He went on to tell me that his present views, which were 
a development of his old ideas, were that ethics was the 
exact study of the words one used in making moral judg- 
ments, and that judgment, to be moral, had to be both 
universal and prescriptive. "This means," he explained, 
"that if you say 'X ought to do Y,' then you commit your- 



The Open Door • 51 

self to the view that if you were in X's position, you 
ought to do Y also. Furthermore, if you have said that 
you ought to do Y, then you are bound to do it — straight- 
way, if possible. If you say that X ought to do Y but 
you don't think that in the same circumstances you ought 
to do it, then it isn't a moral judgment at all." In effect, 
let your conscience always be your guide. "If you do 
not assent to the above propositions," Hare went on ener- 
getically, "then you do not, in my opinion, really believe 
in any moral judgments. You cannot answer 'ought'- 
questions by disguising them as 'is'-questions." He ad- 
mitted, however, that most of the philosophers at Ox- 
ford were not much interested in moral philosophy. For 
that sort of philosophy one had to go to the Continent 
and to Existentialism. 

What was the relationship between Existentialism and 
British philosophy? 

"The thing wrong with the Existentialists and the other 
Continental philosophers," Hare said, "is that they haven't 
had their noses rubbed in the necessity of saying exactly 
what they mean. I sometimes think it's because they 
don't have a tutorial system. You see, if you learn philos- 
ophy here you read a thing to your tutor and he says 
to you "What do you mean by that?' and then you have 
to tell him. I think what makes us good philosophers is, 
ultimately, the method of teaching. But you ought to 
see Iris Murdoch about Existentialism. She's read the 
big books." He'd read only little Existentialist books, he 
said. He had no sympathy for people less good than 



52 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

Miss Murdoch who "let rip on Existentialism and use it 
as a stick with which to beat 'the sterile Oxford philoso- 
phers.' " 

Was it possible to be a philosopher and have a reli- 
gious faith? 

Hare pointed out that some of the Oxford philosophers 
were practicing Christians. He went on to name some 
Catholics: Elizabeth Anscombe; her husband, Peter 
Geach (who, though he was not teaching at Oxford, 
was still "one of us"); B. F. McGuinness; and Michael 
Dummett. "If you wish to be rational," he went on, 
"you've got to look for some way of reconciling formal 
religion, science, and philosophy. I personally think you 
can reconcile only two of these things. As a philosopher, 
you can work out your own personal religion, which may 
or may not conform to what any particular church says, 
but I think it's slightly sophistical, say, to be a Catholic 
and then insist that Hell is scientific. Some philosophers 
here think that they can serve all three masters, and the 
way they reconcile religion and science is revealing. 
They take the dogmatic attitude and call it 'empirical': 
'When the bad go to Hell, they will verify the statement 
that the bad go to Hell.' So much for the scientific prin- 
ciple of verification! I think if you are a Catholic and 
are going to be a philosopher, you're almost bound to 
do one of two things. One is to stick rigidly to the for- 
mal kinds of philosophy — I mean mathematical logic, 
pure linguistic analysis, and that land of thing. The 



The Open Door • 53 

other is to do ordinary philosophy — my sort — but with 
a distinct slant." 

It was getting late in the afternoon, and I said I must 
take my leave. We went back into the house, so that I 
could say goodbye to Mrs. Hare, and she insisted on our 
taking another cup of coffee. "I hope your afternoon 
has been worthwhile," she said. "I have learned all the 
philosophy I know from reading the proofs of my hus- 
band's books." 

Mr. Hare had been candid and informative. Like 
all good tutors, he was a little idiosyncratic and some- 
what oracular but very approachable. 

Next morning, I dropped in on Iris Murdoch. She, 
Elizabeth Anscombe, and Philippa Foot make up the 
squadron of Oxford's feminine philosophers, and they 
and Richard Hare make up the constabulary of moral 
philosophy at the university. Among her friends and 
students, Miss Murdoch has the reputation of being a 
saint, and she has no enemies. She's likely to go about 
without a thought for her dress and without a penny in 
her pocket, and this absent-mindedness perhaps has its 
source in her custom of living and thinking in two worlds 
— philosophy and literature — both of which she inhabits 
with facility and aplomb. Two of her engaging novels, 
"The Bell" and "Under the Net," I had read very re- 
cently, and I was surprised that a writer of such gifts 
should be only a part-time novelist. She greeted me at 



54 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

the door of her study, in Saint Anne's College, and I 
was immediately drawn to her. She had a striking ap- 
pearance, very much like my image of St. Joan — a celes- 
tial expression cast in the rough features of a peasant, 
and straight, blond hair unevenly clipped. 

I determined to steer my way to philosophy by asking 
her about her writing. "I do my writing at home, during 
vacations," she said haltingly. "I settle down with some 
paper and my characters, and carry on until I get things 
done. But terms I devote mostly to reading and teaching 
philosophy — I haven't written any philosophy lately. 
Yes, I do find time to read a lot of novels, but I don't 
think I trespass on my serious reading. No, I don't think 
there is any direct connection between philosophy and 
my writing. Perhaps they do come together in a general 
sort of way — in considering, for example, what morality 
is and what goes into making decisions." She had been 
an undergraduate at the same time as Hare and, like 
him, had read Greats, but, unlike him, she had come 
accidentally to professional philosophy. The aftermath 
of the war put her in touch with Existentialism. "I was 
in London during the war," she recalled, "and afterward 
went to Brussels to do refugee work. In Belgium, there 
was a tremendous ferment going on; everyone was rush- 
ing around reading Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. 
I knew something about them from my undergraduate 
days, but then I read them deeply." She returned to 
England and Cambridge to study French philosophy 
and to look at English philosophy afresh. Wittgenstein 



The Open Door • 55 

had just retired, and she regretted very much that she 
had arrived too late for his lectures. His philosophy, 
however, still towered over the university, and she was 
led up to it by Professor John Wisdom, a disciple of 
Wittgenstein's, and Miss Anscombe, a pupil and trans- 
lator of Wittgenstein's, whom Miss Murdoch had known 
from her undergraduate days. 

I asked Miss Murdoch if she had ever seen Wittgen- 
stein. 

"Yes. He was very good-looking," she replied, feeling 
her way like a novelist. "Rather small, and with a very, 
very intelligent, shortish face and piercing eyes — a 
sharpish, intent, alert face and those very piercing eyes. 
He had a trampish sort of appearance. And he had two 
empty rooms, with no books, and just a couple of deck 
chairs and, of course, his camp bed. Both he and his 
setting were very unnerving. His extraordinary direct- 
ness of approach and the absence of any sort of para- 
phernalia were the things that unnerved people. I mean, 
with most people, you meet them in a framework, and 
there are certain conventions about how you talk to them, 
and so on. There isn't a naked confrontation of person- 
alities. But Wittgenstein always imposed this confronta- 
tion on all his relationships. I met him only twice and 
I didn't know him well, and perhaps that's why I always 
thought of him, as a person, with awe and alarm." 

She stopped talking suddenly, and it was some time be- 
fore she resumed. Then she said that she had some tilings 
in common, as a moral philosopher, with Miss Anscombe 



56 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

and Mrs. Foot. The three of them were certainly united 
in their objection to Hare's view that the human being 
was the monarch of the universe, that he constructed his 
values from scratch. They were interested in "the reality 
that surrounds man — transcendent or whatever." She 
went on to add that the three of them were very dis- 
similar. "Elizabeth is Catholic and sees God in a particu- 
lar color," Miss Murdoch said. "Philippa is in the process 
of changing her position." As for herself, she had not 
fully worked out her own views, though sometimes she 
did find herself agreeing with the Existentialists that 
every person was irremediably different from every other. 

Would she perhaps compare the moral philosophy in 
England and France, I asked, remembering Hare's com- 
ment that she had read the big books. 

"Some of the French Existentialists feel that certain 
English philosophers err when they picture morality as 
a matter of consistency with universal rules," she an- 
swered. "The Existentialists think that even though you 
may endorse the rules society offers you, it is still your 
own individual choice that you endorse them. The Exis- 
tentialists feel that you can have a morality without pro- 
ducing consistent or explicable rules for your conduct. 
They allow for a much more personal and aesthetic kind 
of morality, in which you have to explain yourself, as it 
were, to your peers." 

As she talked on, it became clear to me that she was 
much more an intuitive person than an analytic one, and 
regarded ideas as so many precious stones in the human 



The Open Door • 57 

diadem. Unlike Hare, she found it hard to imagine the 
diadem locked up in an ivory tower, or like the Crown 
Jewels in the Tower of London. "Most English philoso- 
phers," she said, "share certain assumptions of Wittgen- 
stein and Austin. You might want to look into them as 
persons. They were the most extraordinary men among 
us." 

After saying goodbye to Miss Murdoch, I carried my 
researches on to Magdalen College. There I intended to 
draw out G. J. Warnock, who held one of the keys to the 
Austinian legend. This legend was as ubiquitous as the 
stained-glass windows, and it might be presumed to il- 
luminate the dark room of Oxford philosophy, for J. L. 
Austin, who had died a few months before I began my 
quest, had dominated Oxford in much the same way that 
Wittgenstein had dominated Cambridge. In the course 
of an Oxford-to-London telephone call, I asked John, 
"What was the source of everyone's veneration of Aus- 
tin?" and he said, more analytically than unkindly, "Every 
cult needs a dead man." He likened the Austinian sect 
to primitive Christianity, though he added that he did 
not think the worshippers would ever be blessed with 
a St. Paul. 

As it happened, I had attended one of Austin's lec- 
tures, just out of curiosity, while I was an undergraduate, 
and had been entranced by his performance. To look 
at, he was a tall and thin man, a sort of parody on the 
desiccated don. His face suggested an osprey. His 



58 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

voice was flat and metallic, and seemed to be stuck on 
a note of disillusion. It sounded like a telephone speak- 
ing by itself. The day I was present, he opened his 
lecture by reading aloud a page from Ayer's "The Prob- 
lem of Knowledge." He read it in a convincing way, and 
then he began taking it to bits: "What does he mean 
by this?" He bore down heavily on Ayer's argument 
with regard to illusion — that you cannot trust your senses, 
because they are sometimes mistaken. He said that the 
passage about people's having illusions made this sound 
as if it were much more frequent than in fact it was — as 
if when people saw a stick in water and it looked bent, 
they were inevitably deceived into thinking that it ac- 
tually was bent. Austin turned around to the blackboard 
and, leaning forward, drew a sort of triangle with a thin, 
crooked stick in it. He added a cherry at the end of the 
stick. "What is this supposed to be?" he asked, facing 
us. "A cocktail glass?" And he drew a stem and a foot, 
asking as he did so, "How many of you think it is a 
bucket?" He lectured in a deadpan voice, peopling the 
room with Ayer's deceived men, all of whom would take 
the glass to be a bucket. This was Austin's way of say- 
ing that no more people were deceived by Ayer's stick 
in the water than by the glass on the blackboard, that 
Ayer's argument about the fallibility of the senses was 
much less cogent than he made out, and that most of 
what the logical positivists called illusions were in fact 
a madman's delusions. I was told that Austin performed 
like this day after day, mocking, ridiculing, caricaturing, 



The Open Door • 59 

exaggerating, never flagging in his work of demolition, 
while the skeptical undergraduates watched, amused and 
bemused, for behind the performance — the legend — 
there was the voice of distilled intelligence. Austin's 
trenchant remarks on philosophers would make a small 
volume of cherished quotations, and among them would 
surely be a clerihew he wrote on the Harvard logician 
W. V. Quine: 

Everything done by Quine 
Is just fine. 

All we want is to be left alone, 
To fossick around on our own. 

When I arrived at Magdalen, I found Warnock read- 
ing the bulletin board in the porter's lodge. He looked 
slightly younger than Hare, and was round-faced and 
rather tweedy; his appearance went with round-rimmed 
glasses, though he didn't have any glasses on. He was, 
however, wearing a rather nice, formal V-shaped smile. 
Yes, he was expecting me, he said, and took me straight 
to the Senior Common Room for lunch. Wamock was 
the custodian of Austin's papers, but we didn't talk about 
Austin right away. Once we were in the S.C.R., I asked 
him about the lightning attack he and Dr. David Pears, 
of Christ Church College, had made on Gellner and 
Watkins in a discussion on the B.B.C. Third Programme 
in 1957. After Gellner's polemical book appeared, some 
of his detractors had claimed that this broadcast had 
provided him with both the motive and the cue for writ- 
ing it — that when the articulate Oxford pair defeated 



6o • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

the less articulate Gellner and his satellite, Watkins, the 
defeat had made Watkins sulk and Gellner write. "I 
wish I'd known that that little rapping of the knuckles 
would lead to the big storm," Warnock said. "Gellner 
is a rather sensitive chap." I had not expected him to 
show even this much sympathy for Gellner, for I had 
been told that Warnock was one of Austin's two or three 
favorites, and I knew Austin was one of Gellner's main 
targets. 

The lunch was a communal affair, an occasion for 
general conversation, and I was not able to draw War- 
nock out until it was time for coffee, when all the other 
Fellows settled down to their newspapers and we man- 
aged to find a corner to ourselves. Once I had mentioned 
Austin, Warnock needed no further urging. I just sat 
back and listened. 

"Like Wittgenstein," he said, "Austin was a genius, 
but Wittgenstein fitted the popular picture of a genius. 
Austin, unfortunately, did not. Nevertheless, he did suc- 
ceed in haunting most of the philosophers in England, 
and to his colleagues it seemed that his terrifying intelli- 
gence was never at rest. Many of them used to wake 
up in the night with a vision of the stringy, wiry Austin 
standing over their pillow like a bird of prey. Their day- 
light hours were no better. They would write some phil- 
osophical sentences and then read them over as Austin 
might, in an expressionless, frigid voice, and their blood 
would run cold. Some of them were so intimidated by 
the mere fact of his existence that they weren't able to 
publish a single article during his lifetime." 



The Open Door • 61 

Austin's all-consuming passion was language, Warnock 
went on, and he was endlessly fond of reading books 
on grammar. He thought of words as if they were in- 
sects, which needed to be grouped, classified, and la- 
belled, and just as the entomologist was not put off by 
the fact that there were countless insects, so the existence 
of thousands of words, Austin thought, should not be a 
deterrent to a lexicographer-philosopher. "Austin," War- 
nock said, "wanted philosophers to classify these 'speech 
acts' — these promises, prayers, hopes, commendations." 
In Austin's view, most philosophers in the past had 
stumbled on some original ideas and had spent their 
time producing a few illustrative examples for their 
theories, and then as soon as they were safely dead other 
philosophers would repeat the process with slightly dif- 
ferent original ideas. This practice had frozen philoso- 
phy from the beginning of time into an unscientific, non- 
cumulative state. Austin wanted to thaw the ice of ages, 
by unflagging application of the intellect, and make 
philosophy a cumulative science, thus enabling one phi- 
losopher to pick up where his predecessor had left off. 
"He envisaged the future task of philosophers as the 
compilation of a super-grammar — a catalogue of all pos- 
sible functions of words — and this was perhaps why he 
enjoyed reading grammar books so much/' Warnock said. 
"He was extremely rigid in pursuit of details, and he had 
the patience and efficiency needed for this difficult task. 
If he had not died at forty-eight — he had cancer, you 
know — his detailed work might have led to some beauti- 
ful things." 



62 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

"Was Austin influenced by Wittgenstein?" I asked. 

"Oh, no," Warnock said quickly. "In all of Austin's 
papers there is no evidence that he ever really read him. 
I do remember one or two of his lectures in which he 
read a page or two of Wittgenstein aloud, but it was 
always to show how incomprehensible and obscure the 
Austrian philosopher was, and how easily he could be 
parodied and dismissed." 

I was getting worried by the fact that I was supposed 
to admire Austin as a man, and said, "Were there some 
things about him that were human?" 

"Oh, yes," said Warnock, with a smile that indicated a 
faint donnish disapproval of my question. "He was one 
of the best teachers here. He taught us all absolute ac- 
curacy." 

I repeated my question in a slightly different form. 

"He really was a very unhappy man," Warnock said 
quietly. "It worried him that he hadn't written much. 
One lecture, 'Ifs and Cans,' which appeared in the Pro- 
ceedings of the British Academy in 1956, became famous, 
but it is mainly a negative work, and he published very 
few articles and, significantly, not a single book. He 
read, of course — an enormous amount — and the mar- 
gins of everything he went over were filled with notes, 
queries, and condemnations. When he went to Harvard 
to give the William James lectures, in 1955, he took 
everyone there by surprise. Because he hadn't written 
anything, they expected his lectures to be thin, for they 
judged the worth of scholars according to their big books. 



The Open Door • 63 

From his very first lecture they realized that his reading 
was staggering. To add to his writing block, he had a fear 
of microphones, and this prevented him from broadcast- 
ing, like Sir Isaiah Berlin; this was another source of un- 
happiness. He took enormous pride in teaching, but this 
began to peter out in his last years, when he felt that he 
had reached the summit of his influence at Oxford. To- 
ward the end of his life, therefore, he decided to pack up 
and go permanently to the University of California in 
Berkeley, where he had once been a visiting professor 
and where he thought he'd have more influence as a 
teacher. But before he could get away from Oxford, he 
died." 

Warnock was in the middle of straightening out and 
editing Austin's papers, and he told me there were scores 
of bad undergraduate essays that Austin had written for 
his tutor at Balliol. "These essays were of little value be- 
cause his philosophy tutor set him useless subjects," War- 
nock said. It was probably his education at his public 
school, Shrewsbury, rather than at Balliol, that got him 
his Firsts, the Magdalen tutor thought. Besides the bad 
essays, his papers included only two sets of lectures — 
one on perception, the other the William James addresses. 
But both of them were in note form, and would not total 
much more than eighty thousand words when Warnock 
had finished turning them into sentences. Warnock was 
worried by his task of filling out his master's lectures. If, 
by some miracle, the Austin- Warnock composition did 
add up to a hundred thousand words, then the publishers 



64 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

might be persuaded to bring out the work in two hand- 
some volumes. Otherwise, there would be only one 
posthumous book, along with the few published articles, 
as a record of Austin's genius. (Some time later, the 
Oxford University Press brought out a small book, 
"Sense and Sensibilia," by Austin, reconstructed from 
manuscript notes by Warnock. ) There were, of course, 
his many devoted pupils, and they would commemorate 
him. 

Austin's family life, I learned, had been conventional. 
"He married a pupil, and had four children," Warnock 
said. "He was a good husband and a good father. His 
daughter, now eighteen, is about to come up to Oxford; 
his elder son, who is seventeen, is going to do engineer- 
ing. The third child, a boy of fourteen, is very clever, 
and is about to go up to my school, Winchester. He talks 
and looks very much like Austin, and we have great 
hopes for him. The youngest child is a girl." 

It was time to go, and as Warnock walked out to the 
porter's lodge with me, I asked him a bit about himself. 
Unlike most of the other philosophers about, he had not 
read Greats straightway. He had done P.P.E. — a com- 
bination of modern philosophy, political science, and eco- 
nomics — before going on to a year of Greats and a prize 
fellowship at Magdalen. He had been very fortunate in 
having Sir Isaiah Berlin, now Chichele Professor of So- 
cial and Political Theory, for his tutor, and also in having 
a philosopher for his wife. She and Warnock had to- 
gether managed the Jowett Society (for undergraduate 



The Open Door • 65 

philosophers ) , and they had decided to get married after 
they were officers emeritus. He was writing a book on 
free will — one of the oldest chestnuts in the philosophical 
fire. His parting injunction to me was to see Strawson. 
"He'll be able to tell you some more about Austin," he 
called after me, waving. 

I walked back to my old college, where I'd been given 
a guest room, to pick up my mail, and was delighted to 
find a letter from John, who had an uncanny gift of 
never failing me; he seemed to sense my questions before 
I could put them. Just as Oxford philosophy, in his words, 
"made a technique of being non-technical," John made 
a technique of helping his friends without apparent 
effort. It cheered me up to find out that his impatience 
with philosophy did not extend to his friend's researches. 
He said that I shouldn't miss seeing Strawson. "He 
not only is the best philosopher in the university but 
is also unrivalled as a teacher of it," John wrote. "He's 
discovering new stars in the philosophical firmament." 
Austin, he went on, had his equal in Strawson; indeed, 
at one meeting of the exclusive Aristotelian Society, 
creme de la crime of all philosophical societies, Straw- 
son had roundly defeated Austin in a disputation about 
Truth — a truth that Austin had never acknowledged. 

Next day, I waited for P. F. Strawson, Fellow of Uni- 
versity College, Oxford, in his Senior Common Room. 
Strawson, who is considered by both undergraduates 
and his colleagues to be the most high-powered and ere- 



66 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

ative philosopher in England, arrived just a little late and 
greeted me apologetically. He had blue eyes with what 
I took to be a permanently worried expression, and, at 
forty-one, looked like an elderly young man. At lunch, 
I asked him to tell me a little bit about himself, which he 
did, in a modest fashion that by now I had stopped as- 
sociating with philosophers. He had been schooled in 
Finchley, a suburb of London, he said, and he had read 
Greats about the same time as Hare, Miss Murdoch, Miss 
Anscombe, Warnock. His career, like theirs, had been 
interrupted by the war, the close of which found him 
teaching in Wales. "I didn't know what provincialism 
was until I got there," he said. He had been delighted to 
get an appointment to Oxford, partly because Oxford 
had more philosophy in its curriculum than any other 
university. This, he explained, was the reason that a 
philosophy planted in Cambridge had flowered at Ox- 
ford. Cambridge now had only two eminent philosophers 
— John Wisdom and R. B. Braithwaite — while Oxford 
was swarming with them. Without the buzz-buzz, there 
would be no philosophy, he said; the university would 
be a hive minus the honey. 

After lunch, as I climbed up the steps to his room, I 
felt I was leaving the Oxford of lost causes behind me — 
the way he moved suggested subdued confidence. We sat 
by the window, and for some time, as we talked, I 
was aware of the acrobatic motions of Strawson's legs, 
which were now wrapped around one of the legs of 
a writing table and now slung over another chair. 



The Open Door • 67 

We talked about other philosophers as so many birds 
outside preying on the insects that Austin had dug up for 
them. I felt I'd reached the augur of philosophy. On 
the window sill were lying the proofs of an article called 
"Philosophy in England," which was stamped "Times 
Literary Supplement, Special Issue on the British Imag- 
ination." Strawson admitted that he was the author of 
the anonymous piece, and while he went to telephone 
for some coffee, I glanced, with his permission, at the 
first paragraph: 

An Australian philosopher, returning in i960 to the center 
of English philosophy after an absence of more than a decade, 
remarked on, and regretted, the change he found. He had 
left a revolutionary situation in which every new move was 
delightfully subversive and liberating. He returned to find 
that, though the subject appeared still to be confidently and 
energetically cultivated, the revolutionary ferment had quite 
subsided. Where there had been, it seemed to him, a gen- 
eral and triumphant movement in one direction, there were 
now a number of individuals and groups pursuing divergent 
interests and ends, often in a relatively traditional manner. 

When Strawson had returned to his chair, I asked him 
whether he agreed with the Australian philosopher. He 
said he did — that "the view of the Australian philosopher 
was essentially right." For a fuller statement of his own 
conclusions, he modestly directed me to the summary 
at the end of his article: 

Even in the heyday of the linguistic movement, it is doubt- 
ful whether it numbered among its adherents or semi-adher- 
ents more than a substantial minority of British philosophers. 



68 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

It was associated primarily with one place — Oxford — and 
there it centered around one man — Austin — its most explicit 
advocate and most acute and wholehearted practitioner. Its 
heyday was short. When a revolutionary movement begins to 
write its own history, something at least of its revolutionary 
impetus has been lost; and in the appearance of "The Revolu- 
tion in Philosophy" [by A. J. Ayer, W. C. Kneale, G. A. 
Paul, D. F. Pears, P. F. Strawson, G. J. Warnock, and R. A. 
Wollheim, with an introduction by Gilbert Ryle, 1956] . . . 
and of G. J. Warnock's "English Philosophy since 1900" 
(1958) there were signs that eyes were being lifted from the 
immediate task, indications of pause and change. Indeed, 
the pull of generality was felt by Austin himself, who, before 
he died, was beginning to work out a general classificatory 
theory of acts of linguistic communication. It is still too early 
to say what definite directions change will take. In spite of 
the work of Ayer, who never attached value to the linguistic 
idea, and who, in his most recent book, "The Problem of 
Knowledge" (1956), continued to uphold a traditional em- 
piricism with unfailing elegance and skill, it seems unlikely 
that he or others will work much longer in the vein. There 
are portents, however, of a very different kind. One is the ap- 
pearance of a persuasive study entitled "Hegel: A Re-exami- 
nation" (1958), by J. N. Findlay. Hampshire's "Thought and 
Action" (1959), with its linking of epistemology, philosophy 
of mind, and moral philosophy, is highly indicative of a trend 
from piecemeal studies towards bolder syntheses; it shows 
how the results of recent discussions can be utilized in a con- 
struction with both Hegelian and Spinozistic affinities. Straw- 
son's "Individuals" (1959) suggests a scaled-down Kantian- 
ism, pared of idealism on the one hand and a particular con- 
ception of physical science on the other. The philosophy of 
logic and language takes on a tauter line and a more formal 
tone in the work of logicians who derive their inspiration 



The Open Door • 69 

mainly from Frege. Finally, some of the most successful work 
of the period has been in the philosophy of mind; and it 
seems reasonable to suppose that further studies will follow 
upon Ryle's "Concept of Mind" (1949), Wittgenstein's 
"Investigations" (1953), and Miss Anscombe's "Intention" 
(1957) and that, in them, Ryle's explicit and Wittgenstein's 
implicit suggestions of systematization will be refined and 
reassessed. The Australian philosopher had reason enough to 
claim that he found a changed situation. When knowledge 
of this fact of change finally filters through to those who ha- 
bitually comment on the state of philosophy without any sig- 
nificant first-hand acquaintance with it, reactions of com- 
placency may be expected. In the anticipated face of these 
it is worth reaffirming that the gains and advances made in 
the dozen years which followed the war were probably as 
great as any which have been made in an equivalent period 
in the history of the subject. A new level of refinement and 
accuracy in conceptual awareness has been reached, and an 
addition to philosophical method has been established which 
will, or should, be permanent. 

I wanted my augur to divine in more detail the flights 
of the philosophical birds, and asked him to tell me what 
was next. 

"Fifteen years ago," he began, with a nod to the past, 
"we were perhaps over-confident, and dismissed the 
problems of the great thinkers of the past as mere verbal 
confusions. It was right after the war, and we were 
mesmerized by Wittgenstein and Austin." Some were 
still under their spell, he continued, but within the last 
five years most had wandered out of the magic circle. 

"Was the Russell and Gellner charge of sterility in 



70 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

philosophy applicable, then, only to the first decade after 
the war?" I asked. 

He thought so, he said, adding, "They are thinking of 
things like Austin's Saturday mornings." He went on to 
tell me that these meetings admitted only Fellows, no 
professors or others senior to Austin. Austin and his pet 
colleagues whiled away their Saturday mornings by dis- 
tinguishing shades of meaning and the exact applica- 
tions of words like "rules," "regulations," "principles," 
"maxims," "laws." "Even this method, sterile with anyone 
else, was very fertile with Austin," Strawson said, "though 
apparently not for Sir Isaiah Berlin and Stuart Hamp- 
shire. Sir Isaiah didn't last very long, because the whole 
approach was uncongenial to him, and in any case his 
genius lay in breathing life into the history of ideas. 
Most of the other brilliant philosophers, however, turned 
up regularly." This was perhaps what gave Oxford 
philosophy some sort of unity in the eyes of its critics, 
Strawson thought, but they overlooked the fact that on 
weekdays Austin did encourage (with results) people to 
do research in perception — in psychology and physi- 
ology. "Even on his Saturday mornings, toward the end 
of his life, he was coming around to more general sorts 
of questions," Strawson added, waggling his feet on the 
table. He then echoed a sentiment I'd heard again and 
again at Oxford: "Austin was one of the kindest men in 
the university." He went on, "As for the present, we are 
now rediscovering our way to the traditional way of 
doing philosophy. Ryle is composing a book on Plato 



The Open Door • 71 

and Aristotle, Warnock is reworking the problem of free 
will, and I'm writing a little volume on Kant." Thus, 
everything was now in ferment, and he imagined that the 
future might hold a philosophical synthesis chiselled and 
shaped with linguistic tools. 

Strawson's scout brought in some coffee, and both of 
us sipped it gratefully. I spent the remaining time piecing 
together Strawson's intellectual biography. He spent the 
early fifties writing "Introduction to Logical Theory," in 
which he tried to explode Russell's theory that formal 
logic was the road to a perfect, unmessy language. Logic 
was simple and ordinary language was complex, Straw- 
son maintained in this work, and therefore neither could 
supplant the other. But it was really his "Individuals," 
published in 1959, that contained his present views. He 
devoted the second half of the fifties to working out the 
distinctions presented in "Individuals." "In my 'Indi- 
viduals,' " he said, "instead of analyzing the language, I 
ask what the necessary conditions of language are. Like 
Kant, I reach the conclusion that objects exist in space 
and time, and that our language is derived from them, 
rather than the objects from the language. This enables 
me to state that the concept of a person precedes the 
idea of mind and body — that we think of a person, which 
includes mind and body, before we think of either mind 
or body. Through this concept of persons I solve the old 
dualistic problem — how mind and body, if two separate 
entities, can interact on each other. I answer that I can 
think of myself as an objective person — which subsumes 



72 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

both mind and body — when I postulate the existence of 
other persons. In my view, people's existence is objective 
in the same sense that, for example, this table is hard. 
It is hard because everyone agrees that it is hard, and it 
does not make any sense to say This is not so,' or to ask 
whether it is really hard. But if everyone had a different 
opinion about whether this table was hard or not, the 
fact of the table's hardness would, for that very reason, 
cease to be objective, and one would have to speak in 
some such terms as 1 have the peculiar sense of this 
table.' If people had peculiar senses of the table, it 
would deprive the table of existence. This argument 
holds for existence generally. For the existence of any- 
thing would be a private experience if people didn't 
agree about it. In my 'Individuals' I establish that agree- 
ment about the hard table is tantamount to saying that 
the table exists. But the sort of objectivity we ascribe to 
the hard table we cannot quite ascribe to pain, for ex- 
ample, because people do not agree about other people's 
pain, and people do not feel pain all at the same time. 
If they did, we should be able to talk about pain in the 
same way that we talk about the hard table. Nonethe- 
less, I am able to establish that pain is objective." 

By now, his legs were completely entangled with those 
of the hard table, but it was quite clear to me that he was 
one thing and the hard table another, and that both of 
them (hard table more than he) were objective. It was 
also quite clear to me that if men were no longer just 
clockwork machines, or Pavlov's dogs with ivory-tower 



The Open Door • 73 

bells ringing for their intellectual food, then metaphysics 
( or the mind ) — which until the publication of Straw- 
son's "Individuals" Oxford philosophers thought they had 
discarded forever — was now back in the picture. With 
the edifying thought that I had a mind in some sense as 
objective as my body, I took my leave of the scaled-down 
Kant. 

I returned to my college and found John in its buttery; 
he had come up to consult some classical manuscripts in 
the Bodleian Library. Once beer was served, we settled 
down on a bench in a corner. 

"I don't really want to talk your subject," John said, 
smiling, "but my curiosity has got the better of me." 

"I've just come from Strawson," I said. "He explained 
to me his notions about mind and body, but I did find 
them difficult. What do you think about them?" 

"As I told you in London," he began, reluctantly but 
good-humoredly, "I only skimmed the second half of 
'Individuals.' " 

"Yes, yes," I said. "Go on." 

"The ideas contained in Individuals' have a very long 
history," John said. "Without going into all of it, you 
know that in the thirties Wittgenstein talked a lot about 
the problem of mind and body. His pupils kept elaborate 
authorized notes, which were only recently published as 
'The Blue and Brown Books.' It was during his lifetime 
that Ryle brought out his 'The Concept of Mind,' which 
galled Wittgenstein very much, since it contained many 



74 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

of his unpublished ideas. Ryle had reached most of his 
conclusions independently, but this did not assuage old 
Wittgenstein, who had allowed himself to be beaten at 
the publishing game." 

John swallowed some beer and then fumbled in several 
pockets for tobacco, pipe cleaner, and matches. As he 
filled his pipe, he blew a question in my direction: 
"Would you like to know something about 'The Concept 
of Mind?" 

I said I would, especially since Ryle, for personal rea- 
sons, was unable to see me. "Well, it is a great work and 
has had enormous influence," John said. "In this book, 
Ryle talks about the question 'What is knowledge?' and 
also talks, more significantly, about what he calls, or, 
rather, what he caricatures as, 'die dogma of the Ghost 
in the Machine.'" The behaviorists, he went on to ex- 
plain, had maintained that there was no mind but only 
a body — Pavlov's dogs — and that all statements sup- 
posedly about the mind were covertly about the body. 
For them, thinking came down to merely a movement of 
the larynx, for when you think you can feel your throat 
move, as if you were talking to yourself. Ryle became 
convinced that the behaviorists had not conquered the 
classic problem of the mind and the body, and went on 
to ask the classic question of how one gets from the mind 
to the body — how the two halves meet. When I feel a 
pain, how do I get, say, from the pinched nerve ends to 
sensing a pain; or when I am revolted by a bad smell, 
how does, say, the sulphur applied to my nostrils find its 



The Open Door • 75 

way to the inside of my mind? In "The Concept of 
Mind," Ryle, like the behaviorists, dismissed the com- 
monly held theory, formulated by Descartes, among 
others, that the human person consists of two halves, the 
mind and the body, the body being material, or visible, 
audible, tastable, touchable, and smellable, and the mind 
being spiritual, or invisible, inaudible, untastable, un- 
touchable, and unsmellable. He caricatured this dualism 
as the Ghost in the Machine. The Ghost-in-the-Machine 
men thought that when one said "I feel a pain" or "I see 
a flash," one was referring to a private mental act; such 
acts, unlike the movements of the body, were not veri- 
fiable except by the person who performed them. "Ryle, 
agreeing with the behaviorists, said that in fact we know 
perfectly well whether other people want things and hate 
things and know things," John continued. "You tell 
whether someone knows something by his actions. If I 
say 'I know how to read,' this doesn't say anything about 
the private state of my mind, invisible, inaudible, and 
so on, but just means that if you put a book in front of 
me I can read it. That kind of thing. There's a whole 
series of potential statements that can thus be 'unpacked' 
— Ryle's expression — at will. Ryle reached the trium- 
phant conclusion that there are not two parts to the per- 
son but, rather, one entity, which is — well, it's not just 
body. This conclusion is not quite behaviorism — which 
doesn't recognize any mind — but posits a machine with a 
plus. As always, though, various people were soon as dis- 
satisfied with Ryle as he had been with the behaviorists, 



j6 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

and as the behaviorists had been with Descartes' Ghost- 
in-the-Machine man. For my part, I've never been very 
clear what's supposed to be wrong with 'The Concept of 
Mind,' except that I myself do believe that there is a ghost 
in the machine and I do not see how you can get on 
without one. I realize that this attitude is disreputable. 
I mean absolutely disreputable, not just unprofessional, 
for today my belief would be considered full of logical 
lacunae." 

Because I wanted John to make a connection between 
Ryle and Strawson before I lost "The Concept" in the 
philosophical fog in my mind, I didn't pause to com- 
miserate with him but pressed on. "How does Strawson 
improve on Ryle?" I asked. 

"Strawson is very good in this, because he tries to pre- 
serve something from Descartes, on the one hand, and 
behaviorism revised by Ryle, on the other," John said. 
"He says that you can't understand the meaning of the 
word 'thinking' unless you can understand both its 
mental and its physical aspects. Take pain, for example. 
Descartes would have said that pain was only a mental 
occurrence; the behaviorists, with modifications from 
Ryle, said that pain was mere physical behavior — hop- 
ping up and down and going 'Ow!' or something like 
that. But Strawson says that you can't understand the 
word 'pain' unless you understand both its aspects: (1) 
the hopping around and ( 2 ) the f eeling of pain; and that 
since both other people and I hop around when we are 
in pain, and since both also feel it, pain is checkable, is, 



The Open Door • 77 

in a way, objective. Thus, by including both these aspects 
in the concept of 'persons' (which in turn includes one- 
self and other people), he is able to add further pluses 
to the old machine. Strawson's on to something new, 
but all the philosophers here are niggling at one or two 
logical flaws in his chapter on persons, because most of 
them still tend to cling to behaviorism. There's one chap 
who carries behaviorism to such an extreme that he says 
that even to dream is merely to acquire a disposition to 
tell stories in the morning." 

John rose to go. "I must get to the Bodleian before it 
closes," he said. 

"One or two minutes more, John," I begged, and he ac- 
cepted another half pint. 

John told me a few things about Ryle. He came from 
a family of clerical dignitaries, and this probably ex- 
plained his anticlericalism. He was educated in a "mar- 
ginal public school" and at Queen's College, Oxford. He 
read both Greats and P.P.E., with enormous success, and 
managed at the same time to be on the rowing crew. 
The Senior Common Room atmosphere — any Common 
Room would do — fitted him like a glove. He essentially 
liked drinking beer with his fellow-men. He pretended 
to dislike intellectual matters and publicized his distaste 
for reading, but he had been known to reveal encyclo- 
pedic knowledge of Fielding and Jane Austen. He loved 
gardening, and he also loved going to philosophical con- 
ventions, where his charm overwhelmed everyone. 
Young philosophers swarmed round him and he was too 



78 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

kind to them. He was a perfect Victorian gentleman; 
he would have been a sitting duck for Matthew Arnold's 
criticism of Philistinism, just as he actually was for Gell- 
ner's attack on idle philosophy. "Once, Ryle saw Isaiah 
Berlin coming from a performance of Bach's B-Minor 
Mass in the Sheldonian Theatre," John said. "Berlin was 
totally absorbed by the moving experience he had just 
undergone. Ryle shouted to him across Broad Street, 
Isaiah, have you been listening to some tunes again?' " 

John put down his mug and stood up. "I really must 
go," he said. "I hope you won't assume from my hasty 
picture of Ryle that I don't like him. Actually, he's a 
very lovable man, and a highly intelligent one. I simply 
don't share his distrust of imagination. You know, Hume 
devoted very little space in all his works to the imagina- 
tion. He said that it was only a peculiar faculty of mind 
that could combine primary experiences, enabling one to 
picture centaurs and mermaids. Well, Ryle has very 
much the same conception. His own images are mun- 
dane, like so many gateposts, firm in the ground." John 
waved and departed. 

My next call was at Professor Ayer's rooms, in New 
College. He was sitting at his desk, writing, and after he 
had risen to greet me, he said, rather grandly, "Would you 
terribly mind waiting a bit? I'm just writing the last 
paragraph of my address." His professorship at Oxford 
was recent, and he still had to deliver his public in- 
augural lecture. I sat down across from the philosopher 



The Open Door • 79 

at work. His whole appearance was very striking. He 
was a rather small man, with a fine, triangular face and a 
slightly hooked nose. His curly hair, turning silver gray, 
was beautifully brushed; he seemed to have just come 
out of a barbershop, and had a sort of glamorous sheen 
that I had not theretofore met up with among the philoso- 
phers. He was smoking not a pipe but a cigarette, in a 
long holder. And now, instead of writing, he was leaning 
back in his chair and impatiently twisting his hands. He 
looked rather self-consciously thoughtful. Then he leaned 
forward and started writing rapidly, and a few moments 
later he laid down his pen. "There!" he exclaimed. "I 
have written my last sentence." Talking in a somewhat 
birdlike voice, he explained that his lecture surveyed 
postwar philosophy in England and interpreted the 
philosophical handwriting on the wall. If one thought of 
philosophers as idealists and realists, the idealists were 
out — had been since the demise of Josiah Royce ( 1916) 
and F. H. Bradley (1924). The army of philosophers 
thus lacked a soft, or idealist, wing, though it did have 
marginal people like Hare, Foot, and Anscombe. Its 
tough wing was made up of Wittgenstein, Wisdom, Aus- 
tin, Ryle, Strawson, and Ayer himself, with his logical 
positivism. "But then," Ayer chirped, "it's very unprofes- 
sional to talk about philosophers as tough or tender, dry 
or wet. The whole idea is quite absurd, quite absurd." 
He would leave all that out of his final draft, he said. 

We had a quick drink and then walked out of his beau- 
tiful college and up Catte Street and down the High to 



8o • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

the Mitre Hotel for some dinner. On the way, I told Ayer 
which philosophers I had met. "A very good selection it 
is, too," he said. "Hampshire is the only other one I 
wouldn't miss if I were you." Hampshire had left Oxford 
to take Ayer's former chair at London University. "Why 
don't you catch the train with me to London this eve- 
ning?" Ayer suggested. "I honestly think more Oxford 
philosophers will simply mix you up." 

I said I would think about it over dinner. 

We were soon dining, and during the meal I learned 
something about Ayer. Like the great Berlin, he was 
born of foreign parentage — his mother was Dutch, his 
father French-Swiss — and the father, like Berlin's, had 
been a timber merchant. "Though Isaiah's father was a 
successful timber merchant, mine wasn't," he added, 
playing with a silver watch chain and smiling. Ayer had 
been a scholar at Eton. He had come up to Christ 
Church in 1929; most of his Oxford contemporaries were 
rather undistinguished and had been forgotten. "It wasn't 
like the late thirties, which were really the vintage years 
of undergraduates," Ayer explained. "Oxford owes many 
of its great philosophers to the prewar harvest. Some of 
my friends, post-university acquisitions, are Left Wing 
playwrights and novelists — I mean people like John Os- 
borne, Kingsley Amis, and John Wain. I just like their 
society and their way of living, and perhaps this explains 
why I find London much more exciting than Oxford — 
also, incidentally, why people sometimes connect me with 
the so-called Left Wing Establishment. As for my inter- 



The Open Door - 81 

ests, I rather like rereading old novels. I only go through 
the new ones when they're written by people I know. I 
love being on television and I love watching it, and I do 
think the B.B.C. is a wonderful institution. They used to 
invite me at least once every six weeks to lecture or to 
appear on the intellectual discussion program, 'The 
Brains Trust,' and they show those wonderful Westerns 
and programs like 'Panorama' and 'Tonight.' Both my 
stepdaughter, Gully, and I enjoy them very much. I 
actually don't think my television discussions interfere 
with my philosophy, because if I consistently worked 
a four-hour day on my subject I could produce a philo- 
sophical work every six months. Though I came to 
philosophy from Greats, as almost everyone here did 
— for that matter, all recent English philosophers except 
Russell, Wittgenstein, and Strawson were first Greek 
and Latin scholars — language qua language has never 
been a great passion of mine. This makes me tempera- 
mentally closer to Russell than to anybody else, and 
probably rather a freak at Oxford." 

By the end of dinner, I had decided to catch the train 
with Ayer. He had a first-class return ticket, so I joined 
him, and we had a big carriage to ourselves. He pulled 
Amis's "Take a Girl Like You" out of his briefcase and 
laid it beside him, and then he put his legs up on the seat 
opposite and asked me, with a little smile, if I had any 
burning philosophical puzzles. 

I said I really felt I was steaming away from the sub- 
ject, but perhaps he could separate Wittgenstein and 



82 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

Austin for me, since they had now got linked in my mind 
like Siamese twins. 

"Wittgenstein was interested in fundamental philo- 
sophical problems, Austin in language for its own sake," 
Ayer said. "Yet Austin, despite Gellner, was not a lin- 
guist, in any ordinary sense of the word; he was not inter- 
ested in etymology or in the growth of language. He ap- 
plied himself only to the function of words." He agreed 
that there was some truth in the view that philosophy 
for Austin was an impersonal investigation but for Witt- 
genstein was intensely personal. Indeed, Wittgenstein 
thought of himself as a living philosophical problem. "I 
think that before you finish your researches, you ought to 
read Norman Malcolm's memoir of Wittgenstein," Ayer 
said. "The book is in a sense a piece of destructive hag- 
iography; the genre is hardly a model for anyone — in 
any case, it's not well written — but it does incidentally 
reveal a few things about the saint of postwar philos- 
ophy." Ayer also said that Wittgenstein often made 
friends not because of their intellectual gifts but because 
of their moral qualities, so that some of the stories passed 
around about him were a little fuzzy. Until the middle 
thirties little was known about Wittgenstein's ideas out- 
side Cambridge, for to give his teaching continuity he 
preferred the same band of disciples year after year. 
And although some of his students' lecture notes were 
authorized and circulated, his ideas of the thirties were 
available only to the elect until the posthumous publi- 
cation of his "Blue and Brown Books." Wittgenstein's 



The Open Door • 83 

pupils were very remarkable for their intelligence and 
sometimes for their reproduction of the Master's manner- 
isms. His eccentricity was contagious, and few people 
came in contact with him without acquiring a touch of 
his habits, which fitted him, as a genius, but did not al- 
ways suit others, who were just great intellectuals. His 
most conspicuously distinguished pupil was Wisdom but 
the closest to him was Miss Anscombe, whose brilliant 
translations of his German works would have been 
enough in themselves to earn her a place in the English 
pantheon of philosophers. Wittgenstein had a patho- 
logical fear that his ideas would be perverted by anyone 
who did not understand them fully. Although Ayer had 
never been a pupil of Wittgenstein's, once he had pieced 
together a statement of Wittgenstein's current ideas and 
published it in Polemic in the forties. This had enraged 
the Cambridge philosopher, and for a while he showed a 
snarling hostility. "He had that side to his character also," 
Ayer said. 

Ayer picked up "Take a Girl Like You" and started 
leafing through it. "I don't really think it's as good as 
'Lucky Jim,' " he said. "In its way, that was a first-rate 
work." The train was jerkily jogging its way through the 
night. A look out the window was drowsy-making, but 
Ayer seemed very fresh. 

I racked my sleepy brain for some more questions, and 
finally asked him whether there was one particular qual- 
ity that all philosophers shared. 

He was thoughtful for a moment and then said, 



84 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

"Vanity. Yes, vanity is the sine qua non of philosophers. 
In the sciences, you see, there are established criteria of 
truth and falsehood. In philosophy, except where ques- 
tions of formal logic are involved, there are none, and so 
the practitioners are extremely reluctant to admit error. 
To come back to Austin, no one would deny the in- 
cisive quality of Ins mind, and yet when Strawson de- 
feated him in an argument about Truth, it never seemed 
to have once crossed Austin's mind that he was the van- 
quished. To take another example, Russell attacks Straw- 
son as though he were just another Oxford philosopher, 
without reading him carefully. But perhaps at his age 
Russell has a right to make up his mind about a book 
without reading it." Some of the philosophers were vain 
not only about their thoughts but about their personal in- 
fluence, Ayer added. Wittgenstein dominated his classes, 
and, of course, Austin was an absolute dictator at his 
Saturday mornings. 

"Is there anything like those groups now?" I asked. 

"Well, I've just organized one," Ayer said. "We meet 
Thursday evenings, but I hope we do things in a more 
relaxed way than either Austin or Wittgenstein did." His 
Thursday meetings were very informal, he explained. 
There was no preordained leader, but to make the discus- 
sion effective only a handful of philosophers were allowed 
to join in. Disputation took place after dinner over 
whiskey or beer, and it centered on one subject, chosen 
for the term. The topic for the next term was "Time." 
"Truth' may be going out," Ayer said, "but Time' is 
coming back into the philosophical purview." 



The Open Door • 85 

"What is the spread of Oxford philosophy?" I asked. 
"Is it practiced far and wide?" 

"There are some exceptions, but I should say that you 
find at Oxford a fair representation of the kinds of philos- 
ophy that are studied in England, for the simple reason 
that Oxford staffs other universities with philosophers," 
Ayer said. "The real spread of Austin's linguistic philos- 
ophy is in the Dominions and the United States. For this, 
Ryle must take some of the responsibility. He likes 
Dominion and American students, and some people feel 
that he admits too many of them to Oxford for post- 
graduate work. Most students arrive already intoxicated 
with the idea of linguistic philosophy, but they soon find 
the scene much more diversified than they had expected. 
Not all of them profit by the discovery. So, many return 
to their countries to practice Austin's methods wholesale. 
The first-rate people in America, like W. V. Quine, at 
Harvard, and Ernest Nagel, at Columbia, and Nelson 
Goodman, at Pennsylvania, don't give a curse for Ox- 
ford philosophy, but I should imagine there are more 
second-rate people doing linguistic analysis in America 
than in England and the Dominions put together." 

We pulled into the Paddington station and, taking 
separate taxis, closed the philosophers' shop for the night. 

I spent that night at John's. He was in bed when I ar- 
rived, and he had left for the British Museum library 
when I woke up, so I didn't get a chance to talk to him 
until the middle of the afternoon, when he returned from 
the Museum to make himself a sardine sandwich. 



86 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

"What's on your philosophical agenda?" he asked, be- 
tween bites. 

"I'm having a drink with Hampshire," I said. 

"You'll like him very much," John said. "He's still the 
idol of all the young Fellows of All Souls, where he spent 
many years before coming to London." He added that 
Hampshire was a great figure, who was not only still ad- 
mired by All Souls men but looked up to by the whole of 
Oxford. This I could easily believe, because I remem- 
bered how highly he had been regarded in my own un- 
dergraduate days. He had also been passionate about 
Socialism in a youthful kind of way, which had made the 
undergraduate societies court him as an after-dinner 
speaker. Intelligent Oxford — at least, since the thirties 

— was Left Wing, and he had been a patron saint of the 
politically conscious university. His beliefs were rea- 
soned, and he was emotionally committed to his ideas 

— a rare thing for an Oxford philosopher — and because 
his convictions were a matter of the heart as well as of 
the head, he had the rare ability to electrify clubs and 
societies. Lie might share his politics with Ayer, but 
Ayer had only recently returned to Oxford; besides, 
Ayer's Socialism was perhaps a little remote. 

I asked John what he recalled about Hampshire. 

"Well," he said, "as you probably know, he was a star 
pupil at his school — Repton — and was very much un- 
der the influence of one of its masters. Hampshire in- 
herited his liberal principles from his mentor. Sometime 
in the early thirties, he came up to Balliol, where he for- 
tified his Leftist views with wider reading. The last year 



The Open Door • 87 

of the war found him in the Foreign Office, and they 
didn't know what to make of him, because he used to 
start discussions by saying, 'The first tiling to do is to find 
out if our foreign policy is Socialistic' Hampshire 
claimed he started doing philosophy because he liked to 
argue, but in fact he avoided philosophical arguments." 

Leaving John, I taxied to University College (this 
time, of London University ) , and found Professor Hamp- 
shire standing on the steps of the building where he had 
his office. His hands were clasped rather boyishly be- 
hind his back, and his curly blond hair was flying in the 
wind. "Hello!" he called. "I've just locked myself out of 
the office." He looked at me expectantly, as though I 
might have brought him the key. Taking hold of the 
handle of the door, he shook it vigorously and waited in 
vain for it to spring open. "I like the Oxford system of 
not locking doors," he said. "This sort of thing would 
never have happened to me there. There isn't a pub for 
some stretch." Nevertheless, we started in search of one. 
We came upon a Lyons Corner House, and ducked in for 
some tea, because Hampshire was thirsty. Sitting down, 
he surveyed the motley tea drinkers in the room and 
said, "This is what I like about London. You always feel 
close to the people." But the clatter and noise of Hamp- 
shire's people were so deafening that we were soon 
driven out. 

We finally spotted a pub. When we had settled down 
in it, I asked him about his latest book, "Thought and 
Action." 

"I'm not very good at summing up my own arguments," 



88 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

he said. "But my view of philosophy couldn't be further 
from Austin's. Like the ancient philosophers, I feel our 
function is really to advance opinions, and I think philos- 
ophy should include the study of politics, aesthetics . . . 
In fact, I think it should be an all-embracing subject. I 
also think English philosophers ought to take cognizance 
of Continental thought. I feel uncomfortable talking 
about philosophy. I don't really like to talk about things 
when I'm writing about them, and since I write philos- 
ophy, I try to avoid it in conversation as much as pos- 
sible." But he went on to say he hoped that his new book 
had put him in the middle of the cultural stream of 
Europe. He said that, like Miss Murdoch, he was very 
much interested in Existentialism and literature, and, in- 
deed, was now mostly working on aesthetics. 

He and Ayer shared many friends, but his closest friend 
was Isaiah Berlin. He had just spent two weeks with 
him in Italy. "Isaiah, rather indirectly," he said, "does 
illustrate one great aspect of Oxford philosophy — the 
boon of just talking. As you know, he learned most of his 
philosophy at the feet of Austin. They were both at All 
Souls at the same time, in the thirties, and they used to 
sit around in the Common Room and talk philosophy day 
and night. During the war, once, Isaiah found himself in 
a plane, without Austin, and some mysterious thing hap- 
pened that made him decide to give up philosophy." 
Hampshire thought that Berlin now regretted giving up 
philosophy, mainly because he missed the intellectual 
stimulation of talking. He had no one to talk with about 



The Open Door • 89 

his subject — the history of ideas. There were only one 
or two great historians of ideas, and they were not at Ox- 
ford, so Berlin was forced to work in solitude. Since his 
great conversational gifts could not be exercised in the 
service of his work, he relied on an occasional American 
postgraduate student who was studying ideas to bring 
him out of the isolation ward of his subject. The reason 
Berlin could not be counted as an Oxford philosopher 
was simple. He worked not at pure but at political 
philosophy. Where a pure philosopher might begin by 
asking the meaning of the word "liberty," Berlin opened 
one of his lectures by saying, "There are two sorts of no- 
tions of the word 'liberty' — negative and positive — in 
the history of thought. Kant, Fichte, Hegel believed . . ." 

Hampshire rose to get another drink and was pounced 
upon by an African youth of about sixteen who had heard 
him speak in a public lecture hall. "Sir, do you mind if 
I join you?" he asked, edging his way over to our table. 

"If you really want to," Hampshire said, sounding a 
little discouraged. He bought the boy a double whiskey 
and placed it before him. 

The boy only sniffed at it, while discomfiting Hamp- 
shire with repeated compliments. "I heard, sir," he said, 
"you're a man of great vision, really very great vision, 
and you believe in equality — independence for Algerians 
and Maltese." 

Hampshire asked him about his interests, and the boy 
said that he'd always wanted to be an engineer, but that 
since hearing Hampshire he had wondered whether he 



go • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

ought not to be a philosopher. "I'm torn in my con- 
science," he remarked, with a sigh. 

Hampshire counselled him to be an engineer. "In that 
way, you can do more for your country," he said. 

After a while, the boy left, but the philosophical calm 

— if it could be called that — of our conversation had been 
shattered. Hampshire moved his hands restlessly, and, 
after some nervous false starts, began reviewing the gal- 
lery of Oxford philosophers. His words were reeled off 
in the rapid fashion of All Souls conversation, and the 
philosophical lights whizzed past. "On occasion, Witt- 
genstein would say, "Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein, Witt- 
genstein,' the 'W' Anglicized into a soft sound, instead 
of the Teutonic 'V,' 'you are talking nonsense,' and he 
would smite his brow. He was the only person permitted 

— and no doubt the only person qualified — to utter that 
particular proposition. . . . Among other things, Austin 
was the chairman of the financial committee of the 
Oxford University Press — the biggest university press 
in the world. He occupied the post with an envelop- 
ing halo, and his terrifying efficiency raised him above 
all past and future chairmen. . . . Elizabeth Ans- 
combe, in some ways, is like Wittgenstein — she even 
has his mannerisms. Her classes, like the Master's, are 
brooding seances. She wrote a series of letters to the 
Listener in which she opposed awarding former Presi- 
dent Truman an honorary degree, because of his respon- 
sibility for dropping the atom bomb. She made an extraor- 
dinary speech at the concilium, saying, 'If you honor 



The Open Door • 91 

Truman now, what Neros, what Genghis Khans, what 
Hitlers, what Stalins will you honor next?' . . . Hare is a 
little puritanical in his views. . . . Miss Murdoch is elu- 
sive. . . . Warnock talks slowly — a thin sheath over his 
sharp mind for those who've only met him once. . . . 
Strawson, very exciting. Though sometimes may build a 
spiral staircase for his thought out of hairsplitting distinc- 
tions. . . . Ayer, like Russell, well known as a philosopher, 
brilliant performer on television, who, among all his 
other achievements, can simplify. . . . Gellner's charge 
that these philosophers have things in common will not 
bear examination. Sociology can be bad history. Some- 
times classifies its subjects of study indiscriminately. 
Gellner may be a victim of his own art. Good with the 
Berbers." 

After saying goodbye to Hampshire, I returned to 
John's rooms and took from the shelf "Ludwig Wittgen- 
stein: A Memoir," by Norman Malcolm, with a prefatory 
biographical sketch by Professor Georg Henrik von 
Wright, of the University of Helsinki. Because each meet- 
ing with a philosopher had made me more curious about 
Wittgenstein, I set myself the task of finding out more 
about him. 

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was born in 1889. 
His parents were Saxon, but at the time of his birth 
they were living in Vienna. His paternal grandfather was 
a convert from Judaism to Protestantism; his mother, 
however, was a Catholic, and the child was baptized in 



92 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

her faith. His father was an engineer, whose remarkable 
intelligence and will power had raised him to a leading 
position in the steel-and-iron industry of the Austro- 
Hungarian Empire. Ludwig was one of eight children. 
Both of his parents were extremely musical, and their 
home was a center of artistic activity. He received his 
early education at home, learning mathematics and the 
clarinet, and acquiring a burning boyhood wish to be- 
come a conductor. At fourteen, he was sent to a school 
in Linz, and after three years there he was ready for the 
engineering course at the Technische Hochschule in Ber- 
lin. He completed his Berlin course in two years and 
went to England, where he registered at the University 
of Manchester as a research student. His first step on the 
path of philosophy was the reading of Bertrand Russell's 
"Principles of Mathematics," published in 1903, to which 
he turned when he wished to plumb the foundations of 
mathematics. After Russell, he read Gottlob Frege, the 
German mathematician, thus coming face to face with 
the two most brilliant exponents of the "new" logic. He 
sought out Frege in Jena, only to be directed by him to 
go back to England and study with Russell. By 1912, 
he was housed in Trinity College, Cambridge, whose 
walls also enclosed Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and 
John Maynard Keynes. Young Wittgenstein was im- 
mediately befriended by them, and he found himself 
part of the golden years of Cambridge. He was there 
for eighteen months, and, in addition to his other work, 
did some psychological experiments in rhythm and mu- 



The Open Door • 93 

sic. Even though he was on intimate terms with the 
leading minds of England, he did not take to the relaxed 
atmosphere of Cambridge life. In the autumn of 1913, 
he visited Norway, and he returned there later that same 
year in a sort of intellectual huff, to live in seclusion near 
Skjolden; he soon became fluent in Norwegian. His 
father had died in 1912, and his stay at Manchester and 
Cambridge had simply driven him deeper into a depres- 
sion whose history was as long as his life. "It is probably 
true that he lived on the border of mental illness," Pro- 
fessor von Wright says at the opening of his sketch. "A 
fear of being driven across it followed him throughout 
his life." The outbreak of the First World War found him 
a volunteer in the Austrian Army, and he eventually 
fought on both the eastern and southern fronts. For Witt- 
genstein, war was a time of personal crisis and of the 
birth of great ideas. At one moment he was calmed by 
Leo Tolstoy's ethical writings — which led him to the 
warm light of the Synoptic Gospels — and at the next 
he was excited by his own revolutionary views. 

Wittgenstein's earthquake hit the philosophers of the 
twentieth century as hard as David Hume's cyclone — 
which swept away cause and effect from the human ex- 
perience — had hit their eighteenth-century predecessors. 
The new philosophical shudder started at the Austrian 
front. One day in the middle of the war, while Wittgen- 
stein was reading a newspaper in a trench, he was ar- 
rested by a sketch of a possible sequence of events in a 
car accident. As he studied it, he became aware that the 



94 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

diagram of the accident stood for a possible pattern of 
occurrences in reality; there was a correspondence be- 
tween the parts of the drawing and certain things in the 
world. He noticed a similar correspondence between the 
parts of a sentence and elements of the world, and he 
developed the analogy, coming to regard a proposition as 
a kind of picture. The structure of a proposition — that 
is, the way in which the parts of a statement were com- 
bined — depicted a possible combination of elements in 
reality. Thus he hit upon the central idea of his "Tracta- 
tus": Language was the picture of the world. The "Trac- 
tatus" and the Wittgenstein revolution in philosophy were 
under way. 

When Wittgenstein was captured by the Italians, in 
1918, he had the manuscript of his first great philosophical 
work in his rucksack, and he was able to bring it through 
the war intact. He thought his masterpiece had solved 
all philosophical problems, and when the work was pub- 
lished (first in Germany, in 1921, and then in England, 
the following year), some leading minds agreed, with 
him, that philosophy had come to the end of its road. 
Wittgenstein, on the other hand, was at the beginning of 
his. Both his livelihood and his reputation were assured. 
He had inherited a large fortune from his father, his 
genius was proclaimed to the world, and he was free to 
live in leisure and intellectual preeminence. But such 
safe ways were not those of Ludwig Wittgenstein. 
In the first year after the war, he renounced his 
fortune, became indifferent to the success of the 



The Open Door • 95 

'Tractatus," and enrolled in a teachers' college in 
Vienna. When he had completed his education course, 
he taught in schools in Lower Austria for six years, 
wandering from one remote village to another. Being 
a schoolmaster enabled him to lead a life of simplicity 
and seclusion, but Wittgenstein was not at peace with 
himself or the world. He gave up the profession and for 
a time became a gardener, working mostly at monasteries, 
and, as he had done in the past, considered joining a re- 
ligious order. Once more, however, the monastic life did 
not seem to be the answer. Terminating his restless wan- 
derings, he returned to Vienna, and spent two solid years 
designing and constructing a mansion for one of his sis- 
ters. A modern building of concrete, steel, and glass, it 
provided an outlet for his particular architectural genius, 
and according to Professor von Wright, "Its beauty is of 
the same simple and static kind that belongs to the 
sentences of the Tractatus.' " But architecture could not 
contain Wittgenstein's soaring genius, and he spent some 
time sculpturing at a friend's studio. Again according to 
Professor von Wright, his sculpture of an elf has a per- 
fection of symmetry that recalls the Greeks. Wittgen- 
stein's period of withdrawal from philosophy was now 
nearing an end. In Vienna, he heard a philosophical lec- 
ture and decided that perhaps philosophy did have a 
little way to go, so he allowed his old friend Keynes to 
raise some money for his return to Cambridge. He ar- 
rived at his college in 1929, and presented his "Tractatus" 
as a dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy — a degree 



g6 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

that was a negligible accolade to a philosopher with a 
worldwide reputation. A year later, at the age of forty- 
one, he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cam- 
bridge. 

As suddenly as a sketch of a car accident had inspired 
the ideas in "Tractatus," so a gesture of an Italian friend 
destroyed them. The gesture that divided Wittgenstein 
I from Wittgenstein II was made sometime in the year 
10 <33- "Wittgenstein and P. Sraffa, a lecturer in economics 
at Cambridge, argued together a great deal over the ideas 
of the 'Tractatus,' " Professor Malcolm records. "One day 
(they were riding, I think, on a train), when Wittgen- 
stein was insisting that a proposition and that which it 
describes must have the same logical form,' the same 
logical multiplicity,' Sraffa made a gesture, familiar to 
Neapolitans as meaning something like disgust or con- 
tempt, of brushing the underneath of his chin with an 
outward sweep of the fingertips of one hand. And he 
asked: 'What is the logical form of that?' Sraffa's example 
produced in Wittgenstein the feeling that there was an 
absurdity in the insistence that a proposition and what it 
describes must have the same 'form.' This broke the hold 
on him of the conception that a proposition must literally 
be a 'picture' of the reality it describes." It was many 
years before Wittgenstein II worked out his new ideas, 
but the old views, which at one time had finished philos- 
ophy forever, were discarded in the train. 

Wittgenstein II, though he spent thirteen years at Cam- 
bridge, did not surround himself with any of the atmos- 



The Open Door • 97 

phere of an English college. The stark simplicity of his 
way of living would have put any undergraduate to 
shame. His two rooms in Whewell's Court were like bar- 
racks; he did not have a single book, painting, photo- 
graph, or reading lamp. He sat on a wooden chair and 
did his writing at a card table. These two objects, with 
two canvas chairs, a fireproof safe for his manuscripts, 
and a few empty flowerpots, constituted the total fur- 
nishings of the room that served him as both study and 
classroom. His other concession to life was a cot, in the 
second room. 

His classes were held late in the afternoon, and his 
pupils arrived carrying chairs from the landing. They al- 
ways found the philosopher standing in the middle of the 
room, by his wooden chair. He was slender, of medium 
height, and simply dressed, habitually wearing a flannel 
shirt, flannel trousers, a leather jacket, and no tie. Unlike 
the other Fellows, he did not have any notes or set pro- 
cedure for his lectures; he just sat on his wooden chair 
and, according to Malcolm, "carried on a visible struggle 
with his thoughts." His lectures were simply a continu- 
ation of his other waking hours; as always, he thought 
about problems and tried to find new solutions. The 
principal difference between his lonely hours and the 
lecture time was the difference between a monologue 
and a dialogue. He would direct questions to the mem- 
bers of the class and let himself be drawn into dis- 
cussions, but whenever he sensed that he was stand- 
ing on the edge of a difficult problem or a new thought, 



g8 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

his hand would silence his interlocutor with a per- 
emptory motion. If he reached an impasse or felt 
confused, he would say, "I'm just too stupid today," or 
"You have a dreadful teacher," or "I'm a fool." He wor- 
ried about the possibility that his teaching might stop the 
growth of independent minds, and he was also besieged 
by a fear that he would not be able to last the period, but 
somehow he always managed to go on. 

The years of the Second World War found Wittgen- 
stein working as an orderly, first at Guy's Hospital, in 
London, and then in an infirmary at Newcastle-upon- 
Tyne. Toward the close of the war, he returned to 
Cambridge to take up the Chair of Philosophy. When 
Malcolm returned there to study with him, in 1946, he 
found Wittgenstein trying, with strenuous work, to dam 
the depression that always threatened to flood him. 
Wittgenstein was composing Ins "Philosophical Investi- 
gations" (which he kept on revising for the rest of his 
life). "One day," Malcolm recounts, "when Wittgenstein 
was passing a field where a football game was in prog- 
ress, the thought first struck him that in language we 
play games with words. A central idea of his philosophy 
[in "Investigations"], the notion of a language game,' 
apparently had its genesis in this incident." At this 
time, most of his day was spent in teaching, talking, and 
writing the "Investigations." His only relief from the 
constant motion of his thoughts was an occasional film 
or an American detective magazine. But this was no 
opiate, and he ultimately felt compelled to tender his 



The Open Door • 99 

resignation to the Vice-Chancellor of the university. 
Late in 1947, when the decision was taken, he wrote to 
Malcolm, "I shall cease to be professor on Dec. 31st at 
12 p.m." He did. Now began the loneliest period of his 
never convivial life. He first moved to a guesthouse a 
couple of hours' bus ride from Dublin, where he lived 
friendless and in a state of nervous instability. He tired 
easily, and his work on "Investigations" went slowly and 
painfully. He wrote to Malcolm that he did not miss 
conversation but wished for "someone to smile at occa- 
sionally." After five months at the guesthouse, he 
migrated to the west coast of Ireland, where he became 
a legend among the primitive fishermen for his power 
to tame birds. But there was no rest for him. He went 
to Vienna, visited Cambridge, returned to Dublin, rushed 
again to Vienna, where a sister was now dangerously 
ill, proceeded from there to America to see the Mal- 
colms, and was forced back to England and Cambridge 
by an undiagnosed illness. He was eventually found to 
have cancer. His father had been destroyed by this 
disease, and his sister was even then dying of it. He 
left for Austria and his family, but some months later 
he returned to England — this time to Oxford, which he 
quickly came to dislike. He called it "the influenza 
area" and "a philosophical desert." After spending some 
time at Miss Anscombe's house in Oxford, he visited 
Norway, only to return to Cambridge and live with his 
doctor. Never a happy man, he became convinced dur- 
ing the last two years of his life that he had lost his 



ioo • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

philosophical talent; he was also haunted by the suicides 
of three of his brothers. He died in April, 1951. 

I read the last paragraph of Malcolm's memoir: "When 
I think of his profound pessimism, the intensity of his 
mental and moral suffering, the relentless way in which 
he drove his intellect, his need for love together with 
the harshness that repelled love, I am inclined to believe 
that his life was fiercely unhappy. Yet at the end he 
himself exclaimed that it had been 'wonderful!' To me 
this seems a mysterious and strangely moving utterance." 

When John returned, he found me in a sombre mood. 

"Yes," he said. "Wittgenstein was a tortured genius. 
He could have been a first-class conductor, mathema- 
tician, architect, or sculptor, but he chose to be a phi- 
losopher." He started leafing through "A Memoir," and 
read aloud: " 'A person caught in a philosophical con- 
fusion is like a man in a room who wants to get out 
but doesn't know how. He tries the window but it is 
too high. He tries the chimney but it is too narrow. 
And if he would only turn around, he would see that 
the door has been open all the time!' " 

To both of us, this particular passage seemed to stand 
as an epitaph for Ludwig Wittgenstein. 

Next morning, I rolled out of my makeshift bed and, 
with the help of my jottings, started writing furiously 
the conclusions of my researches. To my great surprise, 
complicated sentences streamed out of my typewriter 
and I discovered that I had a philosophical voice keyed 
somehow to the right pitch. 



The Open Door • 101 

"Modern philosophy," I wrote, "has had two great 
pushes, one from Russell and one from Wittgenstein, 
and we're now waiting for another one. Like all phi- 
losophies, its claim to be heard rests on two assumptions: 
first, that what it says is true and lucid; second, that 
these particular truths are more satisfying than any 
alternative answers to the inquiring and reflective mind. 
Naturally, not all reflective minds will be better satisfied 
at Oxford than, say, in Paris, Moscow, New Delhi, or 
New York, but some clearly are. Oxford philosophers do 
not claim to be sages. In few cases, indeed, would the 
claim be credited if it should be made. By their own 
admission, they are not wiser than other men. They 
often assert that their researches do not lead to wisdom 
but only relieve certain feelings of puzzlement (which 
you are bound to have if you ask their questions ) . Once 
they have found answers to their questions, they go on 
living just as before, and, unlike their French con- 
temporaries, many remain degage; they lead dons' com- 
fortable fives in north Oxford (though even so a few 
manage to be evangelists, Socialists, or great eccentrics). 
This has led Gellner to ask what the point of their 
activities can be, since they seem to cure only a disease 
they have induced in themselves and, in many cases, in 
their students. Why should one pay philosophers, he 
asks, if philosophy really, as Wittgenstein said, 'leaves 
the world as it is'? Gellner 's is a mistaken objection. 
Certainly many philosophers are unadventurous, prosaic, 
and boring, but there are also Strawsons and Ayers and 
plenty of others who are not. Whatever they may do in 



102 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

their private lives, it cannot correctly be said that in 
their work they leave the world as it is.' If one man 
begins to see more clearly how the rest of the world is, 
then the world is not as it was. One man sees more 
truth than was seen in the past; the more widely this 
truth is disseminated, the more the world is changed. 
Indeed, once one considers this, Gellner's criticism seems 
absurd. For philosophy has never changed the world 
except by bringing to consciousness in the minds that 
engage in it certain truths that they did not know (or 
did not know clearly) before. Oxford philosophers are 
fond of quoting a remark of Wittgenstein's to the effect 
that there need be nothing in common among all the 
members of a class of tilings called by the same name. 
If we must generalize about the Oxford philosophers 
and their subject, their philosophy is essentially agnostic, 
not in respect to the question of God's existence but in 
relation to many of the great problems whose definitive 
solution has in the past been taken as the aim of phi- 
losophy: questions like whether life is meaningful, 
whether history has a purpose, whether human nature 
is good — in fact, all the questions that have to be asked 
when a man reflectively considers the question 'How 
should I live?' It is true that most Oxford philosophers 
are not agnostic in religion; on the contrary, several are 
Catholic or Protestant communicants. But they regard 
these matters as being outside their philosophy. As men, 
they decide to answer these questions in one way; as 
philosophers, they teach and develop techniques that 
are neutral in respect to the different answers to them. 



The Open Door • 103 

"Oxford philosophers tend to talk chiefly to each 
other — and, in cases like Wittgenstein's, to themselves. 
These practitioners are highly technical (even if they 
claim they make a 'technique of being non-technical'). 
There are exceptions: Ayer is one; another is Hampshire, 
who on some subjects — especially literary subjects, as 
opposed to philosophical ones — succeeds in being illum- 
inating to the simple. Still, most of the philosophers 
go on thinking that technical philosophy is a good 
thing, necessary in order to keep the subject from 'popu- 
larization,' which they interpret as oversimplification or 
quackery. The pity is that their insistence on profes- 
sionalism means that 'ordinary men' are left not without 
any philosophy at all but with old, dead, or quack 
varieties of it. Oxford philosophy, by comparison with 
the past, is non-systematic. Where traditional practi- 
tioners thought it right to deal with questions like 
'What is Truth?,' Oxford philosophers are liable to say, 
following the later Wittgenstein, 'Look at all the differ- 
ent ways the word "true" is used in ordinary speech.' 
(They refuse to look into the uses of words in extraor- 
dinary speech, like poetry, because English philosophy 
has been dominated since Hume by a prosaic contempt 
for the imagination.) When you have considered all 
the ways 'true' is used in ordinary speech, they say, you 
have understood the concept of 'Truth.' If there is a 
further question lingering at the back of your mind 
('But all the same, what is Truth?'), this is the result 
of a mistake — a hangover from reading earlier phi- 
losophers. This approach — philosophy as the study of 



104 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

language rather than as the means of answering the big 
questions about life and the universe - which is basically 
that of the later Wittgenstein, has given Oxford philoso- 
phy a tendency to formlessness. Until recently, the body 
of philosophical thought has existed mainly in a vast 
number of small articles minutely considering a few 
uses of some single concept. Only the aesthetic sense 
of some of its practitioners - Wittgenstein I, Ayer, 
Hampshire, Strawson, and a few others -has kept it 
from overwhelming diffuseness. 

"Now there is a change coming. The Oxford school 
is breaking up; all the signs are that there isn't going 
to be an orthodoxy much longer - that things are going 
to get eccentric again. Austin is no more, and at the 
moment Ryle is not producing. Strawson is going in for 
talking about metaphysics in the old vein, and there is 
every indication that the Wittgenstein wave is petering 
out rather rapidly. In the ten years since Ryle tried 
to solve the mind-body problem by a vast number of 
small chapters on different psychological concepts in 
'The Concept of Mind,' Oxford philosophy has begun 
to develop its own system builders. Probably the strict 
discipline of the late Austin helped induce guilt about 
the looseness and untidiness that these uncoordinated 
researches - each one precise and tidy - were creating 
in the subject as a whole. Two recent books, Hamp- 
shire's 'Thought and Action' and Strawson's Individuals,' 
offer quite systematic approaches to some of the most 
puzzling traditional problems in philosophy: the value 



The Open Door • 105 

of freedom of thought and the relation of intelligence 
to morality, in the first; the problem of sense data and 
the mind-body puzzle, in the second. The new system- 
atic quality comes from a recent insight: that while 
linguistic philosophy is the study of language, certain 
wider truths can be deduced from the conditions that 
must be presupposed if there is to be language at all — 
or language of the kind we have. On propositions de- 
duced from the statement of such conditions, necessary 
truths ( like the relation between the mind and the body ) 
can be built systematically. The non-systematic decades 
may have been an aberration — partly, no doubt, owing 
to the tendency of philosophers to imitate Wittgen- 
stein II and his stylistic lapses from the poetic and 
architectural sensibility he displayed in the 'Tractatus.' 
As Shakespeare said of the pedants in 'Love's Labour's 
Lost,' 'They have been at a great feast of languages, 
and stolen the scraps. O! they have lived long on the 
alms-basket of words.' But then, as the proverb, more 
than two thousand years old, has it, 'Those that study 
particular sciences and neglect philosophy'— however 
defined and however studied —'are like Penelope's 
wooers, who made love to the waiting-women.' " 

These sentences were no sooner out of my typewriter 
than they seemed to have been written by a stranger. 
Reading them over, I couldn't shake loose the feeling 
that they were one more walker on that common street 
where on a morning stroll I'd first met Lord Russell. 



HAPTER THR 



Argument Without End 



In the course of my philosophical conversation with 
Russell, he had remarked, sucking his pipe, "When I 
was an undergraduate, there were many boys cleverer 
than I, but I surpassed them, because, while they were 
degage, I had passion and fed on controversy. I still 
thrive on opposition. My grandmother was a woman of 
caustic and biting wit. When she was eighty-three, she 
became kind and gentle. I had never found her so reason- 
able. She noticed the change in herself, and, reading the 
handwriting on the wall, she said to me, 'Bertie, I'll soon 
be dead.' And she soon was." Since Earl Russell was well 
up in his eighties at the time of this talk, I calculated 
that he must have spent nearly seventy adult years in 
devoted altercation. Whatever progress the stragglers 
on the easy road of cleverness might have made, there 
was no doubt that the tough, intrepid Russell had 



106 



Argument Without End • 107 

reached success by clambering up the brambly and pre- 
cipitous path of intellectual controversy. Russell's words 
pandered to my long-standing predilection for following 
intellectual escapades, with the aid of newspaper dis- 
patches, from the ease of my armchair. Since one of the 
subjects I am particularly interested in happens to be his- 
tory — I read it at Oxford — the thorny journeys that have 
stood out most sharply in the newssheets have concerned 
historians. The parties have more often than not been 
made up of Englishmen, and their terrain has been 
Britain. The smallness of English intellectual society, 
the availability of space in newspapers and periodicals 
of the better class (indeed, their encouragement of con- 
troversial material ) , the highly individual and belligerent 
nature of English scholars — all have made England the 
perfect country for such energetic pursuits. Nor was 
my choice of history — a subject known for its uncer- 
tainties, revisions, and tentative truths — a bad one; it 
appeared to be fair game all the way. 

My safari in search of historical truth didn't exactly 
have a beginning, but the Encounter article entitled 
"Arnold Toynbee's Millennium" (June, 1957), by H. R. 
Trevor-Roper — who was appointed Regius Professor of 
Modern History at Oxford in 1957 — was a memorable 
blast that could easily have set me off. The ten-volume 
"A Study of History," which Trevor-Roper was ostensibly 
reviewing, was the product of more than twenty years' 
labor by one of the most tireless and single-minded men 
of our time, Arnold Joseph Toynbee, Professor Emeritus 



io8 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

of the University of London and former Director of 
Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 
London. With unflagging zeal he had examined the 
history of six thousand years — the life cycles of a score 
of civilizations. He concluded that civilizations spring 
from a response to challenges, and that they flourish by 
the power of a "creative minority," and that they collapse 
with its failure, secreting sometimes amid the ruins a 
religion and a new society. Charting the series of chal- 
lenges that produced great responses and higher religions, 
as well as those that did not, he thought he had proved 
that religions and creative minorities make civilizations 
and that the dead weight of majorities and schisms un- 
makes them. Of all the societies considered, Western 
civilization alone, for Toynbee, still lives, and even it 
has been tottering since the Reformation. Its chances 
of redemption were faced in the last four volumes. 
There it appeared that the weight of historical laws is 
against our survival, but Toynbee insisted, rather contra- 
dictorily, that man is blessed with free will and that 
history cannot rob him of it. Our Western civilization 
can be saved by a recourse to faith, syncretist variety. 
Botii the commercial success of the "Study" ("As a 
dollar-earner ... it ranks second only to whiskey," 
Trevor-Roper gibed) and the despair that flowed from 
the latter volumes galled Trevor-Roper. As was noted 
at the time, the personal venom that shot out of Trevor- 
Roper's pen had seldom, if ever, been equalled in the 
writings of modern scholarship. (In 1957, Trevor-Roper 



Argument Without End • 109 

was generally known for one youthful work on a seven- 
teenth-century archbishop, which was distinctive for 
being anticlerical, and for a brilliant but rather journal- 
istic account of the last days of Hitler; but particularly 
among scholars for some powerful attacks on his aca- 
demic brethren in periodicals, notably R. H. Tawney, 
who was acknowledged to be one of the great English 
historians, and Lawrence Stone, of Wadham College, 
Oxford, whom Trevor-Roper wounded at the start of 
Stone's teaching career.) Now he bellowed that, com- 
pared with Toynbee's style, the writings of Hitler had 
a "Gibbonian lucidity," and declared that the "Study" 
was "huge, presumptuous, and utterly humourless," and 
not only "erroneous" but "hateful." He wrote, "Toynbee's 
truly monstrous self -adulation combined with his funda- 
mental obscurantism [does] indeed emotionally repel 
me." For the Encounter critic, the "Study" was an 
extravagant bid of Toynbee to set himself up as a 
prophet — a Hitler. Had not "Hitler, like . . . Toynbee 
. . . ranged over the centuries and crammed such facts 
as he found it convenient to select into a monstrous 
system"? Did not both Hitler and Toynbee see them- 
selves as the phoenixes of the centuries, Messiahs who 
had rolled up Western civilization and opened up a 
new age — in Hitler's case the Nazi era, and in Toynbee's 
the wishful age of a syncretist religion of all faiths, 
"a new tutti-frutti ... 'a mish-mash,' as one com- 
mentator has described it, 'of the Virgin Mary and 
Mother Isis, of St. Michael and Mithras, of St. Peter and 



no • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

Mohammed, of St. Augustine and Jalalad-Din Maw- 
lana' "? To Trevor-Roper, the scheming Messiah had 
given himself away at the beginning and the end of the 
tenth volume — in the acknowledgments, where he ex- 
pressed his gratitude to, in Trevor-Roper's words, "all 
who, since the beginning of History, have deserved 
immortality by contributing ... to that ultimate cre- 
ation of the ages, the mind of Toynbee," and in the 
index, where Trevor-Roper, by diligent use of the tape 
measure, discovered that the entry "Toynbee, Arnold 
Joseph" occupied twelve column inches. With an ardor 
somewhat in excess of many hounding reviewers, Trevor- 
Roper transported himself to the centenary of the birth 
of the Messiah ("A.T. 100") and found the devotees 
faithfully reading the Old Testament (the sLx prewar 
volumes) and the New Testament (the four postwar 
volumes). In all the churches of Mish-Mash, they were 
reciting "the drowsy doggerel of the Founder's Litany 
'Mother Mary, Mother Isis, Mother Cybele, Mother 
Ishtar, Mother Kwanyin, have compassion on us. . . .'" 
No spirit of fun, however, was at work in the review. 
("Am I serious? Alas, I am," the writer noted with 
chilling humor.) Indeed, the attack was so grave that 
it created a minor sensation, especially since it coin- 
cided with talk of Trevor-Roper's appointment to the 
Regius Chair of Modern History at Oxford, one of the 
most coveted academic gifts of Her Majesty's Govern- 
ment. Many, including quite a few Oxford students — 
and they often don't like Toynbee any more than does 



Argument Without End • m 

Trevor-Roper — seemed to be as repelled by Trevor- 
Roper's attack as he was by Toynbee's work, and when 
the appointment was made, some months later, they 
questioned its advisability. They were supported in their 
doubts by the London Observer, which noted that some 
people were "wondering about the influence on under- 
graduates of a man capable of writing a considered 
article with such elaborate violence and personal hatred." 
For some time, there wasn't the faintest whisper of a 
reply from Toynbee; two final volumes of the "Study" 
were delivered as though Trevor-Roper had never writ- 
ten. Debate, controversy, the arrows of cleverdom were 
not weapons in Toynbee's quiver. Then, after many 
years of silence, he did try to answer all his critics in a 
heavy volume called "Reconsiderations," but the book 
was remarkable for the absence of any bite. Trevor- 
Roper, the crudest and most lacerating critic, was barely 
acknowledged. Out of seven references to him, four 
were in the footnotes, and only one betrayed a hint of 
exasperation. ("On the article as a whole, no comment," 
Toynbee said, with a rare shrug.) Was Toynbee a 
prophet, as Trevor-Roper had charged? "The imputa- 
tion," Toynbee noted, with exaggerated courtesy, "is 
difficult to deal with, because the next most ridiculous 
thing to saying, T think I am a prophet' would be to 
say, T really don't think I am.' Perhaps the best answer 
is not a verbal but a practical one. A readiness to be- 
lieve that one may have been mistaken in the views 
that one has expressed is surely incompatible with be- 



112 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

lieving that they are not one's own, but God's. So I 
hope this volume of reconsiderations may effectively 
dissipate the spectre of Toynbee the prophet.'" 

During the first years of Trevor-Roper's professorship, 
there was an uneasy lull in his activities. Some said 
that the professorship had mellowed him, others that he 
was crouching in wait for big shikar. Everybody was 
guessing, some people with a greater degree of appre- 
hension than others, but Sir Harold Nicolson, doyen of 
critics, appeared able to tread on Trevor-Roper's toes 
with impunity. Writing of the only book issued ex 
cathedra — a collection of the Professor's miscellaneous 
reviews — Nicolson commented, "It seems to me that 
the Professor, for all the fine finality of his judgments, 
lacks the daring scope of Toynbee, the majesty of Namier, 
the incisive wit of A. J. P. Taylor, the taste of Miss 
Wedgwood, the humanity of Trevelyan, or the charm 
and modesty of Dr. A. L. Rowse. . . . Among the strings 
of his lute there is a wire of hate which is apt to twang 
suddenly with the rasp of a banjo." Nevertheless, it 
was believed that if there was a case to be stated against 
a historian, Trevor-Roper could marshal and present 
the evidence not only more destructively but more 
elegantly than anyone else. 

It was after nearly five years of the professorship that 
a very spectacular fatted calf presented himself; he was 
A. J. P. Taylor, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. 
Unlike Toynbee, Taylor looked for no grand design or 
purpose in the universe, claimed no theory of history. 



Argument Without End • 113 

He was a polyglot scholar who had written about a 
dozen historical studies, many of which were standard 
works in his chosen period of the nineteenth and twen- 
tieth centuries. If anything, he was more illustrious prey 
than Toynbee; while practically everybody had stalked 
Toynbee, not many had dared to pursue Taylor. In the 
eyes of the professionals, Taylor had as many solid books 
to his name as any living historian. True, many of them 
held against Taylor his regular contributions to certain 
sections of the vulgar press, like the Sunday Express ( the 
fact that he wrote just as often for highbrow papers did 
not seem to redeem him), and his regular television 
appearances — his Who's Who entry boasts, "Appears 
regularly in television programme, Free Speech," and 
lists among his publications, " 'The Russian Revolution 
of 1917' . . . (script of first lectures ever given on 
television)"— but since a journalistic don was not a 
very uncommon phenomenon in England, Taylor got 
away with all this, and more, until Trevor-Roper came 
along, in yet another Encounter article —"A. J. P. Taylor, 
Hitler, and the War" (July, 1961)— to slaughter him. 
The book under attack this time was Taylor's "The 
Origins of the Second World War." It had arrived on 
the historical scene like a thunderbolt, unheralded by 
the usual prepublication talk. While the specialists 
retired to their dens to chew over the "Origins," Taylor's 
book, like Toynbee's work before it, received hand- 
some encomiums from the public at large. The New 
Statesman review, for one, began, "Mr. A. J. P. Taylor 



ii4 * Fty an d the Fly-Bottle 

is the only English historian now writing who can bend 
the bow of Gibbon and Macaulay." It went on to claim 
that the book was "a masterpiece: lucid, compassionate, 
beautifully written in a bare, sparse style, and at the 
same time deeply disturbing." It was disturbing because 
Taylor assailed the assumption that Hitler and his hench- 
men had willed the war. He termed tins universally 
held belief a myth, and concluded, in one disquieting 
sentence, "The war of 19,39, far from being premeditated, 
was a mistake, the result on both sides of diplomatic 
blunders." The historian depicted Hitler as a rational 
and serious statesman whose foreign policy had a long 
pedigree. The implications of this view were far-reach- 
ing. To take one instance — as book reviewers noted — 
if Hitler was not a madman, then all Germans were 
guilty. 

Trevor-Roper soon emerged from his library, and his 
article on Taylor was only a little less violent than his 
response to Toynbee. In the "Study," the prophecy had 
repelled him; what repelled him in the "Origins" seemed 
to be the philosophy —though Taylor was no more ready 
to admit he was a philosopher than Toynbee had been 
to admit that he was a prophet. In fact, Taylor insisted 
that he was simply trying "to tell the story as it may 
appear to some future historian, working from the 
records." The philosophy that Trevor-Roper ascribed to 
Taylor would scarcely fill a paragraph in any philoso- 
pher's notebook. According to Trevor-Roper, Taylor 
thought that there were no heroes or villains in history, 



Argument Without End • 115 

and that "the real determinants of history . . . are 
objective situations and human blunders." According to 
Taylor, Trevor-Roper continued, "objective situations 
consist of the realities of power; human intelligence is 
best employed in recognizing these realities and allowing 
events to conform with them; but as human intelligence 
seldom prevails in politics, the realities generally have 
to assert themselves, at greater human cost through the 
mess caused by human blunders." Taylor might claim 
to be writing from the records, Trevor-Roper said, but 
his philosophy could write his history for him. This was 
how, in Trevor-Roper's view, both Hitler and Neville 
Chamberlain could be painted by Taylor as "intelligent 
statesmen": Both, it seemed, followed the "historical 
necessity" of 1918. Since Germany was not carved up 
after its defeat, it tended to revert to its natural position 
of a great power. Hitler was, therefore, right and intelli- 
gent in cooperating with this "historical necessity," for 
he stood to gain, and Chamberlain was also intelligent 
in yielding to the same "historical necessity," though he 
stood to lose. With such a philosophy, how could there 
be heroes or villains? Trevor-Roper's insinuation was 
that any historian who looked at the world with these 
neutral eyes obviously could not see the true Adolf 
Hitler. 

If a historian was unable to see Hitler, whose life 
was within our memory — what could he see, I won- 
dered. The charge was all the more severe for being 
applied to a long-established and brilliant practitioner 



n6 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

of the historical art. And how had Taylor come to such 
a pass? Trevor-Roper had his theories. He exhumed 
an old controversy about the Regius Chair. The late 
Sir Lewis Namier, accepted by Toynbee, Taylor, and 
Trevor-Roper himself as a historian without equal in 
twentieth-century England, had, it was publicly rumored, 
recommended Trevor-Roper over his pupil, Taylor, for 
the Regius Chair, on the ground that Trevor-Roper was 
a preferable academic candidate for not having appeared 
much on television. "Is it, as some have suggested," 
Trevor-Roper now asked in Encounter, "a gesture of 
posthumous defiance to his former master, Sir Lewis 
Namier, in revenge for some imagined slight? If so, it 
is just as well that it is posthumous: otherwise what 
devastating justice it would have received!" His specu- 
lations on Taylor's motives did not stop here. He went 
on, "Is it, as Mr. Taylor's friends prefer to believe, mere 
characteristic gaminerie, the love of firing squibs and 
laying banana-skins to disconcert the gravity and upset 
the balance of the orthodox? Or does Mr. Taylor perhaps 
suppose that such a re-interpretation of the past will 
enable us better to face the problems of the present? 
Theoretically, this should not be his motive, for not 
only does Mr. Taylor, in his book, frequently tell us 
that the past has never pointed the course of the future, 
but he has also assured us recently, in the Sunday Ex- 
press, that the study of history can teach nothing, not 
even general understanding: its sole purpose, he says, 
is to amuse; and it would therefore seem to have no 



Argument Without End • 117 

more right to a place in education than the blowing of 
soap bubbles or other forms of innocent recreation." I 
wondered if the historian who made soap bubbles out 
of history would answer or retreat behind the dignified 
cloak of silence, as Toynbee had done a few years earlier. 
A day or two later, this question was settled for me, 
apparently, when I received the June 9th copy of the 
Times Literary Supplement. In a disturbing letter of two 
sentences, Taylor dismissed the host of learned critics 
who, like Trevor-Roper, had been dogging him and a 
kind T.L.S. reviewer. "I have no sympathy with authors 
who resent criticism or try to answer it," he wrote. "I 
must however thank your correspondents for the free 
publicity which they have given my book." 

Nevertheless, I looked through the subsequent En- 
counters for a shriek of protest from Taylor. It took 
some months in coming, but it was unmistakably there 
in the September issue, and what a curious form it took! 
It was ominously headed "how to quote — Exercises 
for Beginners." Two columns of passages — one from 
Trevor-Roper's article summarizing and quoting "Ori- 
gins," and the other unedited quotations from the book 
— were juxtaposed: 

But what about the Euro- Many Germans had 

pean Jews? That episode is qualms as one act of per- 
conveniently forgotten by secution followed another 
Mr. Taylor. culminating in the unspeak- 

able wickedness of the gas- 
chambers. But few knew 



n8 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 



how to protest. Everything 
which Hitler did against the 
Jews followed logically from 
the racial doctrines in which 
most Germans vaguely be- 
lieved. 



It does not fit the char- 
acter of a German statesman 
who "in principle and doc- 
trine, was no more wicked 
and unscrupulous than many 
other statesmen." 



In principle and doctrine 
Hitler was no more wicked 
and unscrupulous than many 
other contemporary states- 
men. In wicked acts he out- 
did them all. 



And so on. But if this was the non-answering way of 
replying to Trevor-Roper, at the end of his exercise 
Taylor attempted a variation on the method: 



It [the book] will do 
harm, perhaps irreparable 
harm, to Mr. Taylor's repu- 
tation as a serious historian. 



The Regius Professor's 
methods of quotation might 
also do harm to his reputa- 
tion as a serious historian, if 
he had one. 



Appended to Taylor's columns was more prose from 
Trevor-Roper. This time, his words were defensive, even 
tame. He wrote that the exercises "are calculated to 
spare him [Taylor] the trouble of argument and to give 
a lot of trouble (or, more likely, bewilderment) to the 
reader," and that "if Mr. Taylor had been able to convict 
me of any 'quotation' comparable with his own version 



Argument Without End • 119 

of the German documents (a subject on which he is 
now silent), or if he had shown my summary to be as 
inconsistent with his thesis as he so often is with himself 
... I should indeed be ashamed." 

Not long after this, a letter from John, enclosing the 
transcription of a television confrontation between 
Trevor-Roper and Taylor on "The Origins of the Second 
World War," reached me in America. "What a shame 
you weren't here for the sensational screen struggle," 
John's epistle read, in part. "Trevor-Roper gave me the 
impression of spluttering flame under the withering 
impact of Taylor's mind. Taylor would pinch his nose 
and take off his glasses as though he had an ulcer or 
was in pain, and my heart went out to him, while Trevor- 
Roper appeared nervous, his mouth a little jumpy, his 
hands writhing. As far as I am concerned, Taylor stole 
the show. But this is one mans opinion. No doubt 
there are others." 

The debate had taken place sometime between the 
publication of "A. J. P. Taylor, Hitler, and the War" 
and that of the "Exercises for Beginners." It indicated 
to me that Taylor certainly hadn't gone down without a 
fight. While the detailed criticisms of his book had been 
many and varied, the two points that had drawn every- 
body's fire were that Taylor was blind to Hitler's wicked- 
ness (even if he excluded from the book the genocide 
of the Jews, on the ground that it was not part of the 
story of the origins of the war, everybody said, he had 
no excuse for discounting or ignoring altogether Hitler's 



120 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

monomaniacal visions in "Mein Kampf," his maunder- 
ings about being the master of the world in "Hitler's 
Table Talk, 1941-1944," and his Hossbach Memorandum 
to the Generals in 1937, which became "the blueprint 
for the War of 1939") and that Taylor had set out to 
be perverse (Munich, generally accepted to be "a tri- 
umph of cowardice," was made by him "a triumph of 
all that was best and most enlightened in British life"). 
In a word, his critics accused him of being an apologist 
for Hitler, and an apologist for appeasement. 

"It's perfectly obvious," Taylor now said in his own 
defense on TV, "that the wickedness he [Hitler] did, the 
wickedness he inspired, particularly what went on in 
Germany — the dictatorship, later on, the extermination 
of the Jews — these have no parallel in history. I don't 
dispute this. But it seems to me that his foreign policy 
was the least original part of what he contributed, either 
for good or ill. That in this — and this is all I've been 
trying to say, not thinking of it in moral terms — that 
Hitler's policy sprang out of the German history that 
had gone before. That in one form or another Germany, 
remaining united at the end of the First World War, 
was bound to seek to destroy the defeat; was bound to 
seek to undo the Treaty of Versailles; and that the im- 
petus of success in undoing this Treaty would carry 
Germany forward, unless it was checked in some way, 
into being again a great and dominant power in Europe. 
If these are wicked things — if it's wicked for Germans 
to want to be dominant in Europe, and not wicked, shall 



Argument Without End • 121 

we say, for Americans or Russians to be dominant in the 
world, well then he was a wicked statesman. But I don't 
understand, except that I dislike the Germans, why 
merely wanting your country to be the most powerful 
in the world puts you into the head [sic] of a wicked 
statesman. . . . The basis of this blueprint [the Hoss- 
bach Memorandum] — Hitler lays it down — is that 
there's going to be a great war in 1943-45 — he uses these 
figures more than once, this is the thing that he's thinking 
of, the Great War — which maybe he was planning for 
1943-45, instead of that he got himself into a smaller 
war in 1939, and how the first can be a blueprint for the 
second, I don't understand. If a man comes along, you 
know, and says I'm proposing to fly by jet plane to 
Canada next year, but instead goes on a motorcycle tour 
next week, I don't think he's a very good planner. . . . 
The war of 1939 is not the war he planned. It may 
well be that he planned some different war — a war 
against Russia, a war in 1943, but the war of 1939 was 
a war against England and France, it took place against 
antagonists that he'd not planned it to take place against, 
and it took place at a time when he had not planned 
it to take place. . . . When I judge — perhaps this is the 
wrong way for a historian to go on — but when I judge 
events in the past I try to judge them in terms of the 
morality which then existed, not of mine. When I say 
that Munich was a triumph for all that was best in 
British life, I mean that the years and years before that, 
enlightened people, men of the Left — whom perhaps 



122 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

I equate too easily with all that was best — that they 
had attacked Czechoslovakia, that they had said that 
the inclusion of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia 
was — in the words of one of them, Brailsford — the 
worst crime of the peace settlement of 1919. ... I mean 
by that a triumph for all those who had preached en- 
lightenment, international conciliation, revision of trea- 
ties, the liberation of nationalities from foreign rule, 
and so on." 

For me, the books of Toynbee and Taylor had raised 
disconcerting questions, which could no longer be 
answered by arguments over such specific points as 
whether Toynbee really wished to put out the lights of 
Western civilization, and whether Taylor overlooked 
the ferocious and destructive springs of Hitler's character. 
More fundamental questions had begun to nag at me. 
The majestic Sir Lewis Namier had furnished his "The 
Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III" — 
one of the best historical works of our time — with an 
epigraph from Aeschylus' "Prometheus Vinctus": "I took 
pains to determine the flight of crook-taloned birds, 
marking which were of the right by nature, and which 
of the left, and what were their ways of living, each 
after his kind, and the enmities and affections that were 
between them, and how they consorted together." If, in a 
sense, history was a movement of birds, Toynbee and 
Taylor used very different methods to divine it. Both 
insisted that they were empirical historians, yet one 



Argument Without End • 123 

used a telescope and the other a microscope. Both 
claimed to be objective historians, yet one indisputably 
tilted his telescope to the heavens and the other, by his 
own admission, confined the range of his vision to the 
minutiae of foreign policy. From my study of history, 
I knew that selection and exclusion were basic principles 
of the historical method. But the disparity in the pro- 
cedure of Trevor-Roper's two kills was so great that for 
me it could not be explained on the grounds of method 
or temperamental differences. My perplexity, as I was 
soon to learn, was shared by a Taylor of Cambridge — 
E. H. Carr, Fellow of Trinity College — who, even as 
Trevor-Roper was laying low his victims one by one, 
was asking the question "What is history?" On its own 
merits, the question was an engulfing one, and the fact 
that the answers were delivered as Trevelyan lectures to 
Cambridge undergraduates, broadcast over the B.B.C., 
reproduced in Listener articles, and finally issued as a 
book, "What Is History?," contributed to the swell of 
interest. 

Carr, one of the most distinguished historians at Cam- 
bridge, began his lectures by assailing a few victims of 
his own with a cutting polemical style that was all the 
more brilliant and effective for having an air of cogency, 
reasonableness, and sanity. Prominent in the display of 
his trophies seemed to be the head of Sir Isaiah Berlin, 
whose book "The Hedgehog and the Fox" and whose 
lecture "Historical Inevitability" had established him as 
a sober and intelligent thinker on the question "What is 



124 ' Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

history?" "In 1954," Carr now said in attacking the 
Chichele Professor, "Sir Isaiah Berlin published his essay 
on 'Historical Inevitability.' . . . He added to the indict- 
ment the argument . . . that the liistoricism' of Hegel 
and Marx is objectionable because, by explaining human 
actions in causal terms, it implies a denial of human 
free will, and encourages historians to evade their sup- 
posed obligation ... to pronounce moral condemnation 
on the Charlemagnes, Napoleons, and Stalins of history. 
. . . Even when he talks nonsense, he earns our in- 
dulgence by talking it in an engaging and attractive 
way." 

At the very first opportunity — that is, when Carr's 
lectures were printed in the spring of 1961, in the 
Listener — Berlin tried to fend Carr off in a letter that 
finished, "His short way with the problem of individual 
freedom and responsibility (the 'dead horse' which, in 
Mr. Carr's horrifying metaphor ... I Tiave flogged into 
life') is a warning to us all of what may happen to those 
who, no matter how learned or perspicacious, venture 
into regions too distant from their own. Mr. Carr speaks 
of his indulgence towards my follies. I am glad to 
reciprocate by offering him my sympathy as he gropes 
his way in the difficult, treacherous and unfamiliar field 
of philosophy of history." 

Carr, however, took Berlin's letter simply as an oppor- 
tunity to redeliver his thrusts, in the Listener, at his 
new-found sympathizer. He quoted chapter and verse 
for his summary of Berlin's views: 



Argument Without End • 125 

One [he recited abacus fashion], in "Historical Inevitabil- 
ity" ... Sir Isaiah writes: "I do not here ["my italics," Can- 
noted] wish to say that determinism is necessarily false, only 
that we neither think nor speak as if it were true and that it 
is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to conceive what our pic- 
ture of the world would be if we seriously believed it." Over 
and over again, he seeks to show that determinism is in- 
compatible with "the notion of individual responsibility," . . . 
which he emphatically endorses. If these arguments do not 
lead to the conclusion that "determinism must be false," 
I do not see where they lead. 

Two, Sir Isaiah dismisses what he calls "the modern plea 
for a greater effort at understanding" ... on the ground 
that those who make this plea are involved in the fallacy that 
"to explain is to understand and to understand is to justify." 
This seemed to me to mean that the historian should not look 
for, say, underlying social or economic causes of the two 
world wars, lest he should in the process explain away the 
moral responsibility of Wilhelm II or Hitler or the German 
people. 

Three, Sir Isaiah sharply dissents from the view . . . "that 
it is foolish to judge Charlemagne or Napoleon or Genghis 
Khan or Hitler or Stalin for their massacres" and from the 
view that it is "absurd" or "not our business as historians" to 
praise "benefactors of humanity." I took this to mean that it 
is wise and sensible and our business as historians to award 
good or bad marks to outstanding figures of the past. . . . 

When I wrote my lectures, I thought I knew where he 
stood on these three questions. Now, with the best will in the 
world, I simply do not know. 

To what extent Hitler could help being Hitler, to 
what extent he would be morally exonerated if he was 
regarded as the product of his environment, to what 



126 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

extent a historian could place himself in the role of 
judge — all were more than clockwork hares, even if 
the scent had stuck to Berlin, who now thumped Carr 
with a second solid epistle: 

( 1 ) My reason for not asserting that determinism must be 
false is simple — I did not, and do not, know whether it is 
false. The word "here," italicized by Mr. Carr, was meant to 
indicate that I did not think it appropriate to conduct a full- 
scale discussion of the arguments for and against determi- 
nism in general in a lecture on history, not (as he seems to 
think) that I claimed to know it to be false but did not 
bother to show this in the lecture in question. What I did say, 
and still believe, is that the arguments in favour of determi- 
nism are not convincing, let alone conclusive, and that accept- 
ance of it logically entails a far more drastic revision of some 
of our commonest convictions and notions than is usually al- 
lowed for. The belief, for instance, that men who acted in a 
particular way in a particular situation could, within certain 
limits, have acted differently in this same situation, in a more 
than merely logical sense of "could," seems to me to be one 
of these. 

I argued in my lecture that this assumption underlay the 
normal thought and language of most men and most historians 
(including Mr. Carr), whereas they do not imply ability [sic] 
in determinism as described by Mr. Carr, but rather the con- 
trary. But this fact, although it may create a presumption 
against determinism, is not, of course, tantamount to showing 
that determinism is false, still less that it must necessarily be 
so; only that if it is, at any rate for practical purposes, a valid 
hypothesis (as it may be), then much that historians and 
common men (including Mr. Carr) assume or believe will 
turn out to be false. 

I also argued that we cannot really embrace determinism, 



Argument Without End • 127 

that is, incorporate it in our thought and action, without far 
more revolutionary changes in our language and outlook 
(some among them scarcely imaginable in terms of our ordi- 
nary words and ideas ) than are dreamt of in Mr. Carr's philos- 
ophy. On the other hand, Mr. Carr is perfectly right in sup- 
posing that I believe that the determinist proposition that in- 
dividual (or indeed any) actions are wholly determined by 
identifiable causes in time is not compatible with belief in 
individual responsibility. Mr. Carr believes that both these 
irreconcilable positions are supported by "common sense and 
common experience," whereas I think that only the second is 
what ordinary men assume. It is this paradox that is at the 
heart of the problem of free-will, and, as I have admitted 
already, I do not know what its solution is. It is this issue 
that Mr. Carr dismisses as a "dead horse," as many eminent 
thinkers have tried to do before him. It has, unfortunately, 
survived them all and may, I fear, survive him too. 

(2) If Mr. Carr supposes that I deny the proposition that 
"to understand all is to pardon all" he is, once again, perfect- 
ly right. But if he infers from this that historians should not, 
in my view, use all their powers to understand and explain 
human action, then he is certainly wrong. It seems to me, 
to give an example, that the better we understand ourselves, 
the less liable we may be to forgive ourselves for our own 
actions. But from this it does not begin to follow that histor- 
ians should not look for "social or economic causes of the two 
world wars" because their discoveries may explain away the 
moral responsibility of specific individuals; they may or may 
not. It is the business of historians to understand and to ex- 
plain; they are mistaken only if they think that to explain is 
ipso facto to justify or to explain away. This truism would 
not need stating were it not for a tendency on the part of 
some modern historians, in their understandable reaction 
against shallow, arrogant, or philistine moral judgments (and 



128 • Fly and the Fhj-Bottle 

ignorance or neglect of social and economic causes), to com- 
mit themselves to the opposite extreme — the total exonera- 
tion of all the actors of history as products of impersonal 
forces beyond conscious human control. 

(3) It is one thing to recognize the right of historians to 
use words which have moral force, and another to order or 
recommend historians to deliver moral judgments. I can 
only say again that to attempt to purge the historian's 
language of all evaluative force is neither desirable nor pos- 
sible. But it is a far cry from this to inviting or commanding 
historians to give marks "to outstanding figures of the past," 
of which I am accused. In matters of moral judgment 
historians seem to me to have the same rights and duties, 
to face the same difficulties, and to be liable to the same 
lapses as other writers and other men who seek to tell the 
truth. ... I sincerely hope, therefore, that in his forth- 
coming book, which I shall read, like all his other works, 
with eager interest, he will not charge me with views which 
neither of us holds. I know that he would not do so willingly. 

If Carr had failed to decipher the philosophically 
coded signals of "Historical Inevitability," he could 
hardly have failed to understand the letter. But the 
Cambridge historian unapologetically presented Berlin's 
head as a trophy in the published book, alongside count- 
less dead and living historians, including Trevor-Roper, 
who was pinned to the wall as a violent, almost irra- 
tional conservative by his own remark "When radicals 
scream that victory is indubitably theirs, sensible con- 
servatives knock them on the nose." Karl Popper, Pro- 
fessor of Logic and Scientific Method at the London 
School of Economics, whose "The Open Society and 



Argument Without End • 129 

Its Enemies" had made him a pundit without equal 
on the philosophy of history, and had also put him 
at least partly on the side of Carr, was another of 
Carr's trophies — and that despite the prepublication 
warnings of E. H. Gombrich, a strong ally of Popper's, 
who often does his public letter writing. "There is 
something disarming," Gombrich had noted (again in 
the Listeners epistolary tournament), "in Mr. E. H. 
Carr's picture of himself as another Galilei, facing a 
bench of such obscurantist inquisitors as Sir Lewis 
Namier or Professor Popper . . . while boldly holding 
on to his Marxist belief in the predetermined movement 
of history towards ever-increasing human self -awareness. 
Unfortunately, he is more like Galilei's famous colleague 
who refused to look through a telescope." 

In his book, Carr unhesitatingly held on to his belief, 
Marxist or no, that all history is relative to the historians 
who write it, and all historians are relative to their 
historical and social background. ("Before you study the 
history, study the historian. . . . Before you study the 
historian, study his historical and social environment.") 
History was not objective (possessing a hard core of 
facts) but subjective (possessing a hard core of interpre- 
tation). Each generation reinterpreted history to suit it- 
self, and a good historian was one who projected his 
vision into the future — or, rather, one whose vision 
coincided with the goals toward which history was ad- 
vancing. History was progress, the forward march of 
events, and a historian was judged to be good if he left 



130 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

the losers on the "rubbish heap of history" and picked 
the winners of tomorrow. This, as Berlin, who was thus 
far Carr's severest critic, pointed out, in his final estima- 
tion of the book ( New Statesman ) , was a "Big Battalion 
view of history" — although he acclaimed the book as 
"clear, sharp, excellently written ... a bold excursion into 
a region of central importance where most contemporary 
philosophers and historians, unaccountably, either fear 
or disdain to tread." Even as I put down Berlin's re- 
view, which was remarkable for pulling its punches, ru- 
mors reached me that Trevor-Roper, whose conservative 
views were destined by Carr to join the rubbish heap of 
history, was bringing out his Encounter chopping block. 
By this time, my armchair inquiry had grown to com- 
pelling proportions, and I was a captive of the delicate 
art of the philosophy of history. I felt an impulse to 
talk to the controversialists themselves. After spending 
a few days in the public library, I came to realize that 
England is now the home of historians doing historical 
philosophy, having grasped the leadership from the 
Germans, who, from Hegel to Oswald Spengler, were 
unchallenged champions of the subject; today the Conti- 
nentals who have thoughts on the study tend to gravitate 
to Britain. I set myself the assignment of finding out 
what the practicing historians think about their own 
craft, and what they think the connection is between 
their craft and their theories of history — hoping at the 
same time that I would come to know them both as 
thinkers and as men. Through my reading of history, 



Argument Without End • 131 

I was familiar with the names and writings of many 
historians who represent various ways of looking at 
history. Besides Trevor-Roper and Toynbee, Taylor and 
Carr, there were Herbert Butterfield, Master of Peter- 
house, Cambridge; Pieter Geyl, Emeritus Professor of 
Modern History at the University of Utrecht; C. V. 
(Veronica) Wedgwood, a scholarly historian who wrote 
popular history at its best; and a number of others — 
such quiet English historians as Christopher Hill, Pro- 
fessor R. W. Southern, the Reverend Dr. David Knowles, 
G. R. Elton, Sir John Neale, David Ogg, and the late 
Professors Richard Pares and Sir Lewis Namier, who 
cultivated their scholarly gardens in private. (Berlin 
and Popper occupy some undefined region between his- 
tory and philosophy, and their views merit a study by 
themselves.) With an open list of historians to meet, I 
started out for the colony of intellectuals, my first stop 
being the study of Trevor-Roper himself, in the History 
Faculty Library, on Merton Street, in Oxford. 

I found Trevor-Roper — who was born in 1914, the 
year the First World War started — in his study. He 
was seated behind a desk in a cold, gray, almost bare 
room, and he was a youthful-looking gentleman who, 
one would guess, used a straight razor for a shave. His 
voice was as bleak as the winter wind from the open 
window beside his desk, and he had no time for pleas- 
antries. My first few questions fell flat, but mention of 
the name Taylor made him sit up, rather as a sullen 



132 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

country squire might when he is asked to talk about 
his grouse shooting. 

"I believe in clarity/' he said, with a pure B.B.C. 
accent. "In my article on Taylor, there was not a single 
emotive word — well, maybe one or two! 'Emotive word' 
I define as any word that carries with it a value judg- 
ment." 

I felt I was in the lion's den, but I asked him if specu- 
lating on Taylor's motives was not making some sort of 
value judgment. 

"I was following Taylor's stricture in the 'Origins' that 
one must question the motive of every document," he 
replied. "For me, Taylor's book is a document, albeit a 
worthless one. It must, therefore, have a motive. Before 
speculating on his motives in writing the book, I did 
consult one or two people — they shall remain nameless." 

How did he think the television debate had gone? 

"He called me Hughie, but I was not disconcerted or 
deflected from my manners," he said. "I called him 
Taylor — though in private life he is known to me as 
Alan — because I believe that in public debate one must 
not give the impression of a private coterie. I do not 
think I did badly." 

Had he looked at Toynbee's "Reconsiderations"? 

"I refuse to read any of him now," he said. "He is 
utterly repellent to me. His laws are false. He presented 
the whole Minoan civilization in a way to fit his laws 
of rout and rally. Etc." 

Was it true that he was preparing a piece about Carr 
for Encounter? 



Argument Without End • 133 

"I am reviewing What Is History?' at length," he said. 
"It is not a good book. Carr presents his own side with 
an enormous degree of sophistication, whilst his oppo- 
nents are ridiculed. For example, he denigrates the 
role of accident in history by saying that people who 
argue from accident are arguing from the shape of 
Cleopatra's nose, or the proverbial monkey bite that 
killed the king. They are saying, 'Were it not for the 
shape of Cleopatra's nose, or the monkey bite that killed 
the king, the course of history would have been differ- 
ent/ Suppose we substitute for Cleopatra's nose the 
death of Churchill in 1939. Am I then to be told by the 
Carrs of this world that the course of history would 
have gone on pretty much as it did under the leadership 
of Churchill? For my other criticisms of Carr, I direct 
you to my Encounter review, which will be on the stands 
in a month or two." 

Were there any twentieth-century English historians 
he admired? 

"Not really." 

"Not even Tawney or Namier?" I asked. In the eyes 
of many professional historians in Britain, R. H. Tawney 
is considered to be second only to Sir Lewis Namier. 
The two men, it is thought, revolutionized the study of 
history — one by brilliantly employing economic analysis, 
the other by using psychological and biographical tools. 
It is said that Tawney and Namier did for history what 
Marx and Freud had done for sociology and psychology, 
respectively. 

"A colleague of Tawney 's told me the other day," 



134 " Fty an d the Fly-Bottle 

Trevor-Roper said, "that he used to get very emotional 
about evidence which contradicted his theories. He 
sometimes valued his conclusions too much. I do admire 
Namier, though I think his method is a limited one." 

"Whom do you admire unreservedly?" I asked. 

"Gibbon." 

"In this century?" 

"One or two French historians." 

"Do you have any theories of history yourself?" I 
asked. 

"Yes. I believe in parallels in history — what happened 
in the fourth century B.C. can throw light on the twen- 
tieth century. I believe in the law of causation — x 
causes y in history." 

His credo was so unexceptionable that neither Tawney 
nor Namier nor Toynbee nor Taylor nor Carr would 
argue with it. 

"Sometimes," I said, a little cautiously, "you explain 
away the works of men like Toynbee and Taylor in 
terms of their prejudices. Are there any personal details 
about you that could throw light on your way of writing 
history?" 

"Not really," he said. 

As soon as I had left Trevor-Roper, I got hold of a set 
of proofs of his Encounter article, which was called 
"E. H. Carr's Success Story." Like many other reviewers, 
Trevor-Roper took the Cambridge historian to task for 
his determinism (Carr had dismissed the people who 
tarried over the might-have-beens of history as players 



Argument Without End • 135 

of a "parlour-game"); for his new definition of the 
"objective" historian (believing that historians were not 
free from prejudice, Carr had to some degree redefined 
objectivity in a historian, as "the capacity to project his 
vision into the future"); and for disregarding accidents 
and contingencies. But the weight of Trevor-Roper's 
axe fell on Carr personally. Here, as in his other En- 
counter executions, the condemned man's personal life 
was made the scapegoat for some of his views ( this time 
with the emphasis on Carr's proposition, "Study the his- 
torian before you begin to study the facts"). 

In 1939 [Trevor-Roper wrote], Mr. Carr published an 
important book, "The Twenty Years' Crisis," in which he 
appeared, as so often since, as a "realist," cutting as ruth- 
lessly through the "utopian," "idealist" verbiage of Sir Alfred 
Zimmern and Dr. Lauterpacht as he now cuts through the 
antiquated liberalism of Sir Isaiah Berlin and Dr. Popper. 
The upshot of his argument was that only the realities of 
power matter, and that German power, and the ideas to 
which it gave force, must be respected as a datum in politics. 
The book was, as Mr. A. J. P. Taylor has recently called it, 
"a brilliant argument in favour of appeasement." A few 
years later, Mr. Carr changed his mind about the realities 
of power, and during the war, when he contributed largely 
to The Times, he became known as "the Red Professor of 
Printing House Square." But suppose that, in the 1930s, he 
had written a history of Germany, "objective" in his sense of 
the word, according to the evolving standard "laid up in the 
future," and disregarding "the might-have-beens of history." 
I have no doubt it would have been a brilliant work, lucid, 
trenchant, profound. No doubt it would have been acute 



136 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

in analysis and without crude error or misjudgment. Never- 
theless, I wonder how well it would have worn: how 
"objective," in any sense of the word, it would have appeared 
to us now, when the Nazi success story has ended in dis- 
credit and failure. In fact Mr. Carr did not write a history 
of Germany. But his great "History of Soviet Russia" bears 
the same relation to "What Is History?" which that un- 
written history would presumably have borne to "The Twenty 
Years' Crisis." For what is the most obvious characteristic 
of "A History of Soviet Russia"? It is the author's unhesi- 
tating identification of history with the victorious cause, his 
ruthless dismissal of its opponents, of its victims, and of all 
who did not stay on, or steer, the bandwagon. The "might- 
have-beens," the deviationists, the rivals, the critics of Lenin 
are reduced to insignificance, denied justice, or hearing, or 
space, because they backed the wrong horse. History proved 
them wrong, and the historian's essential task is to take the 
side of History. . . . No historian since the crudest ages of 
clerical bigotry has treated evidence with such dogmatic 
ruthlessness as this. No historian, even in those ages, has 
exalted such dogmatism into an historiographical theoiy. As 
Sir Isaiah Berlin wrote in his review of Mr. Carr's first 
volume (and perhaps it is this as much as the arguments 
in "Historical Inevitability" which has provoked Mr. Carr to 
pursue him so pertinaciously through these pages ) : "If Mr. 
Carr's remaining volumes equal this impressive opening, they 
will constitute the most monumental challenge of our time 
to that ideal of impartiality and objective truth and even- 
handed justice in the writing of history which is most deeply 
embedded in the European liberal tradition." 

Impressed as I was by Trevor-Roper's ability to aim 
his bullets at the most vulnerable parts of his prey, to 
find chinks in everybody's armor, I put down "E. H. 



Argument Without End • 137 

Carr's Success Story" in a state of exasperation. Trevor- 
Roper had a gift for marshalling the faults of a historian 
— a Toynbee, a Taylor, a Carr — without a grain of 
sympathy. After reading him, one wondered why the 
books had been written at all, why anyone read them, 
why anyone took them seriously. He put me in mind of 
a literary critic who has no love for writers, whose 
criticism is not an enhancement of our understanding, an 
invitation to read the book again in the light of his 
interpretation, but simply an instrument of destruction. 
Yet the paradox was that in principle Trevor-Roper 
seemed to have no objection to historians who, in error, 
put forward challenging theses. He had written once 
in a lecture, "Think of the great controversies launched 
by Henri Pirenne's famous thesis on Mohammed and 
Charlemagne. No one now accepts it in the form in 
which he published it. But how the living interest in 
Europe's dark ages was re-created by the challenge 
which he uttered and the controversy which he engen- 
dered! Think too of Max Weber's famous thesis on the 
Protestant ethic: a thesis of startling simplicity and — 
in my opinion — demonstrable error. But how much 
poorer our understanding of the Reformation, how much 
feebler our interest in it would be today, if that chal- 
lenge had not been thrown down, and taken up! The 
greatest professional historians of our century . . . have 
always been those who have applied to historical study 
not merely the exact, professional discipline they have 
learned within it but also the sciences, the hypotheses, 



138 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

the human interest which — however intermixed with 
human error — have been brought into it by the lay 
world outside." 

Perhaps the explanation of Trevor-Roper's Janus-like 
posture, scowling at Pirennes and Webers with one face, 
smiling at them with the other, lay not with him but 
with England. Even as I had been chasing the Hydra 
of historical and philosophical controversy, the intellec- 
tual atmosphere in Britain was thickening with hundreds 
of other altercations until the air choked with a miasmic, 
blinding fog. In a sense, to follow any of the proliferat- 
ing controversies to its roots was to discover oneself writ- 
ing about the intellectual life of a people. Going for the 
largest game, creating an intellectual sensation, striking 
a posture, sometimes at the expense of truth, stating the 
arguments against a book or its author in the most relent- 
less, sometimes violent way, engaging the interest of 
practically the whole intelligentsia by using every nook 
and cranny of journalism, carrying on a bitter war 
of words in public but keeping friendships intact in 
private, generally enjoying the fun of going against the 
grain — all these features prominent in historical disputa- 
tion were also part of the broader English mental scene. 
The more secure the castle of any reputation, the more 
battering rams arrived to assail it, and Sir Charles Snow 
and Dr. F. R. Leavis were but the most spectacular 
casualties of what Hampshire in the New Statesman 
called "a ruinous conflict." The role of the papers them- 
selves in many of these personal or intellectual conflicts 



Argument Without End • 139 

could be glimpsed in the Spectators first publishing the 
acrimonious and ruinous utterances of Leavisites and 
Snowites and then closing the controversy with an edi- 
torial that began, "Controversy on matters of intellectual 
principle frequently has the disadvantage of obscuring 
those issues which it is intended to lay bare." I had not 
read all the volumes of "A Study of History," or actually 
agreed with "The Origins of the Second World War," or 
carefully listened for the thunder of the big battalions 
in Carr's monumental work on Russia, or probably 
grasped the full implications of "What Is History?," but 
I had read enough of, and thought enough about, many 
of the works to be excited by them, and to be interested 
in these historians as men. 

My next visit was to Arnold Toynbee, who works in 
Chatham House, in London — the home of the Royal 
Institute of International Affairs. 

I arrived at the two -hundred-year-old house early one 
afternoon, and was shown by a watchful porter to a door 
on the second floor marked rather portentously "The 
Toynbee Room," but the professor who opened the door 
was any tiling but portentous. Toynbee, who is seventy- 
three, is a medium-sized, alert-looking man with a heavy 
head and a heavy nose. He was wearing an old blue 
serge suit, which hung rather loosely around him, and 
he suggested a saint who is wrapped up in his theories 
and his prayers and yet is eager to please. The Toynbee 
Room appeared to be a shrine not so much to him as 



140 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

to a world long past. Books on archeology, on ancient 
Greece and Rome, on China, on Egypt, on the Orient 
were spread out like panel after panel of mosaics in a 
cathedral. Over the fireplace was a portrait of Toynbee. 

"Oh," he said of this, rather apologetically, looking 
away from it, "I used to have a rather good print of the 
Parthenon there, but my elder son presented me with 
this painting and . . ." 

There wasn't a single volume on the twentieth cen- 
tury, and when I commented on this, Toynbee said 
simply, "I keep all the modern books at home. I will 
be leaving those to the family. These more valuable 
ones I am leaving to Chatham House." 

We sat facing each other in a corner and talked. 

I asked Toynbee how he managed to produce one 
thick volume almost each year. 

"I have a very good memory, but it sits lightly on me," 
he said. "I read an enormous amount, but I suppose it's 
from experience that I know exactly what to copy down 
in my ruled, ten-by-six notebooks I have a sort of fore- 
knowledge about useful material. Sometimes I take notes 
years in advance of actually writing a book. I have just 
been in Italy in connection with a study on ancient Rome, 
for which I have been unsystematically taking notes for 
the last forty-odd years. Whenever I come across an 
interesting quotation, I copy it out in one of my note- 
books, and I have now filled twenty -five of them. Inci- 
dentally, I have sold my notebooks, along with the long- 
hand text of 'A Study of History,' to the manuscript col- 



Argument Without End • 141 

lector Arthur Houghton, of Corning Glass. If it doesn't 
bore you, I was in America recently, and called on 
Houghton and found some of my writings, framed, along- 
side some by Alexander Pope, who has an exquisite hand. 
It was like returning from the dead." He laughed quietly. 

"How did you come to write your 'Study of History'?" 
I asked. 

"It all goes back to the First World War," Toynbee 
answered readily. "I happened to be rereading Thucy- 
dides' 'Peloponnesian War,' when it struck me that the 
tragic experience we were going through had already 
been experienced by the Greeks. It came to me that it 
was possible for one society to have experienced things 
— such as a mortal war — that were still in the future for 
another society. Two societies could be spaced wide 
apart chronologically and yet be mentally contemporane- 
ous. I have been at work on the 'Study' ever since." 

With time banished as a factor from the life of a 
society, Toynbee said, a human mind could compare 
and contrast the experiences of various societies and 
make some fruitful, scientifically valid generalizations 
about man's experience in the universe. From the very 
beginning, he went on, his whole enterprise had been 
precarious. There was the antipathetic climate of opin- 
ion, the depression, the war, and a race with his own 
life cycle. He had written his book under tremendous 
mental pressure, and it was only by chance that it was 
not killed before its inception. "In 1911," Toynbee ex- 
plained, "I came down from Balliol and made straight 



142 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

for Greece. I spent a year there, tramping about the 
villages, talking to anybody and everybody, generally 
learning about Greece. I had an inaccurate Austrian 
staff map with me, which, among the other howlers, in- 
dicated a nonexistent road. I thought I'd found it, and, 
being thirsty, drank a lot of the roadside water, until a 
Greek shouted across to me, 'You shouldn't drink that 
water, it's bad water!' Because of the bad water, I con- 
tracted dysentery, which took years to throw off, but 
because of the dysentery I was not a second lieutenant 
in the war, and did not, like half my college contempo- 
raries, die in it. Isn't it extraordinary how chance does 
work in history?" 

"If you believe in chance," I asked, "how can you 
believe in historical laws?" 

"I don't think I am a determinist," Toynbee said. 
"I believe in free will. I often think back to the interven- 
tion of chance, like the death of Alexander the Great. 
Had he not died young, he might have politically united 
the world. Today, instead of two warring camps, we 
might have had a united world, with no nuclear sword 
of Damocles over our heads." 

"But if one chance can affect history so," I insisted, 
"then — " 

"Ah, yes!" he interrupted. "But Alexander the Great is 
an exception. In his case, no other Alexander came along 
to do the job. In most cases, there are many candidates, 
and it's a matter of chance who does the job, who gets 
the recognition. Many people had the idea of evolution 



Argument Without End • 143 

simultaneously in the nineteenth century, because the 
time was ripe, but Charles Darwin got the recognition." 

Granted that, so to speak, human fruits did ripen and 
rot according to the seasons of civilizations, how had 
Toynbee had the audacity to formulate climatic laws 
from only a couple of dozen specimen societies? 

"I would, of course, have liked hundreds and thou- 
sands of specimen civilizations to work from, but I did 
the best I could with the samples I had," Toynbee re- 
plied immediately. "Charles Darwin says somewhere that 
'ten specimens are too many for a scientist.' " 

All the criticisms and reconsiderations, Toynbee said, 
had not shaken his fundamental belief that human ex- 
perience has a pattern, a shape, an order; indeed, he had 
anticipated, in 1919, when he first outlined his magnum 
opus, all the criticism that was later heaped on his head. 
Today he stood alone as a grand generalizer, but he com- 
forted himself with the thought that the days of the 
microscope historians were probably numbered. They, 
whether they admitted it or not, had sacrificed all gen- 
eralizations for patchwork, relative knowledge, and they 
thought of human experience as incomprehensible chaos. 
But in the perspective of historiography, they were in 
the minority, and Toynbee, in company with St. Augus- 
tine — he felt most akin to him — Polybius, Roger Bacon, 
and Ibn Khaldun, was in the majority. "You see," Toyn- 
bee said, "I was a scholar at Winchester, and naturally 
subjected to all sorts of tribal customs. I fought many 
of the customs, and you can, I think, explain away some 



144 " Fty an d the Fly-Bottle 

of my differences with the contemporary historians — I 
am a minority of one — by saying I am still going against 
the grain, against the tribal customs." 

"But Augustine and Bacon weren't going against the 
current of their times — they were going with it," I said. 
"Indeed, they epitomized the spirit of their times." 

"That's true," Toynbee said. "But then there are many 
other men whose work was only recognized years after 
their death. I think, you see, that history moves in alter- 
nations." At the moment, he went on, we were passing 
through a despairing time in intellectual matters, but a 
period of generalization was not necessarily not just 
around the corner. In any case, he had not neglected the 
mood of the century completely. He had kept his feet 
on the ground of our times by producing "Survey of In- 
ternational Affairs," a series of yearly studies for the 
Royal Institute of International Affairs. From the very 
start of his "Study," he had entertained no hopes for it 
in his lifetime. "As soon as I put pen to paper," he said, 
"I knew that whatever reputation I had would go up in 
smoke." The first two three-volume sets of his "Study," 
in fact, had been published and forgotten in the shadow 
of the Second World War. The postwar volumes had 
been written in a slightiy different mood — as a sort of 
tract for the times. He had tried to do for history what 
Jung had done for psychology. Both he and Jung, as 
more historical and psychological facts came to light, 
would be superseded, as a matter of course, but as far 
as he was concerned, if even a quarter of his generaliza- 



Argument Without End • 145 

tions were not lost in the sands of time, he would consider 
his work well done. He and Jung had come upon their 
ideas separately — not a small portent of the times. Jung's 
discovery of psychological types, primordial images, 
Toynbee said, was very similar to his discovery of con- 
temporaneous societies. "You know, Jung served in the 
Swiss artillery," Toynbee went on. "Once, his unit was 
digging a trench in the Alps. They had been digging 
hard for some time when an artilleryman shouted, in 
exasperation, Tf we dig any farther, we will come to the 
Mothers.' " 

Some critics, he added, had accused him, Toynbee, of 
finding not just the bed of civilizations under the moun- 
tain of facts but gods as well; Mothers and civilizations 
were one thing, gods another. But if the death of civili- 
zations did give rise to religions, how could he help ap- 
plauding their death, especially since the better off a 
civilization was materially, the less vital it was spiritually? 

"Since I do not believe in a personal god," Toynbee 
went on, "I don't have a vested interest in any one re- 
ligion. If it doesn't bore you . . . Although, of course, I 
can't get away from my Judaeo-Christian background, 
temperamentally I am a Hindu. As a Hindu, I don't 
have any difficulty in believing in many gods simul- 
taneously, or thinking that a syncretist faith may be the 
answer for our age. To Hindus, it's of no consequence 
which road, Siva or Vishnu, one travels — all roads lead 
to Heaven." 

I asked Toynbee if his religious views had provided 



146 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

the motive and the cue for Trevor-Roper's violent at- 
tack. 

"If it doesn't bore you," he said, "I have been very 
puzzled by that article. If Trevor-Roper thought my 
ideas to be rubbish, why did he bother with them, and 
that, too, in such a systematic and relentless fashion? 
When the onslaught was published, Encounter pressed 
me to write an answer, but I'm pleased that I didn't 
adopt my enemy's tactics. In the original version of the 
'Reconsiderations,' I said quite a few harsh things about 
Trevor-Roper, but my wife edited them out, and I'm 
glad. For, you see, Trevor-Roper, by overelectrocuting 
me, really electrocuted himself. Of course, he hurt me 
very much — I still feel pain in my pinched tail — 
but . . ." 

Taking up the cudgels for him, I said, "You could 
safely have made short work of his comparison of you 
to Hitler." 

"Did he compare me to Hitler?" Toynbee asked with 
innocent surprise. "Oh, I'd forgotten that. I may be 
forced to write another volume of answers." He laughed. 
"And then I shall certainly disclaim being a Hitler." 

"Another volume!" I said. 

"Well, Pieter Geyl, my very pugnacious and persistent 
critic" — Toynbee's tone was affectionate — "brought out 
a pamphlet answering and dismissing my 'Reconsidera- 
tions' practically within ten days of its publication. So 
far, I've only written him a remonstrating letter, but if 
he goes on at this rate, I may well have to bring out 



Argument Without End • 147 

another book of answers." After a pause, he said, "By 
the way, what did you think was the most damaging 
count in Trevor- Roper's indictment — in case I should 
write another 'Reconsiderations'?" 

"I thought his quotations from your autobiographical, 
tenth volume were quite telling," I said. 

"It may sound to you like double-talk," Toynbee said, 
reconsidering, "but I don't really believe in objective 
history, so in the autobiographical volume I tried to 
put on the table my environment, my prejudices, and 
my methods — the bag of tools I used in writing the 
'Study.' Often when reading historians like Thucydides 
I have missed not having a record of their lives and train- 
ing. Such a record would certainly have illuminated 
their works for me. I think it's a help to the readers of 
my 'Study' to know that my mother was a historian, my 
elder sister is a professor of archeology at Cambridge, 
my younger sister is an excellent monographer on the 
Stuart dynasty, one of my sons, Philip, is a distinguished 
literary critic, and so on. Even Philip's novel 'Pantaloon' 
— it is largely autobiographical — might aid some curious 
future readers." 

"But surely Trevor-Roper is complaining about the 
autobiographical excesses rather than about the facts," 
I said. 

"Yes," Toynbee promptly agreed. "I wrote 'A Study 
of History' under enormous mental pressure. All the 
while I was writing it, I didn't know if there was time 
enough in the world to finish it. Also" — he hesitated — 



148 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

"I wrote some of those volumes under fire, when I was 
having lots of trouble. You see, my first marriage had 
collapsed, affecting me deeply, and ... in a sense, I never 
got over it. A tired man is apt to make mistakes." 

I wanted to talk to him about the many historians I 
had been reading, but he had not seen Taylor's book and 
had not heard of Carr's "What Is History?" He readily 
admitted not knowing much about the professional his- 
torians, but he thought he admired Miss Wedgwood 
and Tawney. "I am very ignorant about their fields, 
however, so I suppose I can't really judge them," he 
said. "Before you censure me for my ignorance of day- 
to-day history, I ought to tell you that the climate of my 
mind is wholly classical. It's because of a classical educa- 
tion that I've concentrated all my energies on looking for 
order in human experience." 

"But Trevor-Roper had a classical education," I said. 

"Oh, I didn't know that," he said. "I can't imagine, 
then, what he got out of it. I am not saying that a classi- 
cal education stamps people with a uniform point of view 
but, rather, that it does endow men with some common 
properties. Gibbon had a point of view totally opposite 
from mine, but nevertheless, because of his classical edu- 
cation, I can read him with pleasure, just as I think he 
could read me with pleasure." 

"Would Trevor-Roper grant Gibbon's reading you with 
pleasure?" I asked. 

'Terhaps not," Toynbee said, laughing. 

It was nearly seven, and Toynbee asked me to dine 



Argument Without End • 149 

with him at the Athenasum, a club that is said to have 
more bishops per square inch than any other club in the 
world. "I very seldom go out," he said, "but I warned 
my wife in advance that I might take you to my club 
today." He said that, aside from his family, he didn't 
see many people. He had lunch once a week with one 
old school friend, a retired county judge, and some- 
times he met a retired insurance executive. Out on the 
street, he didn't so much walk as float on a thick cushion 
of air, and he gave the impression of being a Gabriel 
among the people. 

In the club, Toynbee ordered medium-dry sherry, 
lentil soup, steak and kidney pie, and strawberry ice, and 
talked rather expansively about a seventeen-month 
journey he had taken around the world a little while 
back as a journalist, which had resulted in a book called 
"Between Oxus and Jumna." "When I travel," he said, 
"I carry in my pocket a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita, a 
volume of Dante, an anthology of the metaphysical poets, 
and 'Faust' — books I read over and over again. Some 
people live by Freud and 'Hamlet.' I live by Jung and 
'Faust.' " 

Toynbee's attempt to generalize, his regarding history 
as a tapestry with recurring patterns, his ordering of the 
life of a civilization according to its religion and art ( the 
development of medicine and science, the basis for most 
people's belief in human progress, hardly gets a hearing 
in his work — no wonder the West has been on the de- 



150 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

cline since the sixteenth century), his refusal to believe 
that the faith of ages past in an orderly world has been 
shattered like a Humpty-Dumpty, never to be put to- 
gether again — all are contrary to the predominant mood. 
This, perhaps, is the reason Toynbee has attracted critics 
as a sweetshop invites children. The most formidable 
of the living critics, possibly, is Pieter Geyl, of the Uni- 
versity of Utrecht. Geyl, who is seventy-five, spent more 
than twenty years (1913-35) in England, beginning as a 
correspondent for a Dutch newspaper and then becom- 
ing a professor — first of Dutch studies and then of Dutch 
history — at London University. He is well acquainted 
with — indeed, a part of — the English historical scene, 
and his reputation among the professionals is as high as 
Toynbee's is low. A. J. P. Taylor, who is almost as sparing 
of compliments as Trevor-Roper, and almost as prolific 
as Toynbee, wrote a rapturous piece about Geyl for his 
seventieth birthday: "When people ask impatiently: 
'How then would you define an historian?' I am at no 
loss for an answer. This is my definition: Pieter Geyl is 
an historian. . . . He represents the ideal towards which 
historians strive — or rather ( to avoid generalizing in my 
turn) towards which I, as an historian, strive and to- 
wards which other historians whom I admire strive 
also. . . . Even when he is wrong (and I think he is 
sometimes ) , he is wrong as only an historian can be. . . . 
The historical significance of Dr. Geyl's work (much of 
which has been translated into English) has been widely 
acknowledged; this year its literary significance, too, was 



Argument Without End • 151 

recognized, when he was chosen to receive the P. C. 
Hooft Prize, the leading Dutch literary award. . . . His 
style is unassertive. But when he has reached the point 
of decision, his words fall like the blows of a hammer. . . . 
His attitude towards historical evidence is well seen in 
his prolonged controversy with Toynbee. Faced with a 
sweeping generalization covering the centuries, Geyl does 
not intervene with an equally generalized doubt. Mod- 
estly, unassumingly, he takes some individual case — 
the rise of the Netherlands, the British colonies in North 
America, the unification of Italy — and asks: 'Does the 
generalization accord with these facts?' When it does 
not, that is the end so far as Geyl is concerned." Taylor 
then, as a professional historian, used the occasion to dis- 
charge some volleys at Toynbee. "But that is not the end 
for Toynbee," he wrote. "It is not even the beginning; 
it is nothing at all. For, since he makes up generaliza- 
tions to suit his convenience or his religious whim of the 
moment, the fact that they do not accord with the evi- 
dence is irrelevant to him." This was not all. Geyl 
could not even comprehend the workings of Toynbee's 
mind: "He [Geyl] cannot bring himself to believe that 
anyone should fly so willfully and so persistently in the 
face of evidence as Toynbee does. Therefore Geyl comes 
back once more to wrestle with the convicted sinner, 
hopeful that — this time — he will see the light. But it is 
of no avail. Toynbee remains incorrigible; and once 
more the damning sentence is pronounced." And, Taylor 
continued, "the same rigorous appeal to the evidence is 



152 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

shown in the historical work with which Geyl made his 
name. He challenged the accepted version of how the 
Netherlands were divided. Earlier historians had ex- 
plained the division by differences of religion or of race 
or of national character. They did not find these dif- 
ferences in the historical evidence; they put the differ- 
ences in from their own experience or inclinations. Dutch 
Protestants wanted to show that Holland had always 
been predominantly Protestant and that Protestantism 
was a superior religion. Belgian historians wanted to 
show that Belgium had always existed as an independent 
entity, though no one noticed this at the time. Geyl 
looked at the evidence. He studied the contemporary 
record and noticed the obvious things which no one had 
noticed before: the decisive part played by the Spanish 
army and the line of the great rivers. This is a less in- 
spiring and romantic explanation than the older ones; 
it is less flattering to national pride, whether Dutch or 
Belgian. It has only the virtue of happening to be cor- 
rect; and it is now difficult to imagine a time when men 
did not realize it. The discrediting of the older version 
and the substitution of a better one, firmly based on evi- 
dence, is one of the most beautiful historical operations 
in our lifetime." 

With Taylor's tribute as my guide — he seemed to be 
leading me out of the medieval, theological world of 
Toynbee and into the modern, medical world of Geyl — 
I made my way to Utrecht to see the Dutch historian. 
One of his pupils, who met me at my hotel, the Pays- 



Argument Without End • 153 

Bas, the morning I arrived, told me a little bit about him. 
"Both Geyl's father and his grandfather were doctors," 
his pupil told me, "and while his mind still has the pre- 
cision of an operating room, as a man he is vain as only 
a humanist can be. Once, in a seminar, a student argued 
that one day national barriers might disappear, leaving 
the world with one state and one language. Geyl pounced 
on him: 'But what about my immortal Dutch prose?' It 
was said with a touch of irony, but only a touch of irony. 
Some of his works, even now, he won't have translated, 
saying, 'If anyone wants to know what I think, he can 
jolly well learn Dutch.' In fact, I believe he's somewhat 
hostile to the Common Market because he fears that 
the Dutch language will disappear in such an organiza- 
tion. This is not just love of the language but love of 
his country and its history. In that sort of way, he is 
very much a conservative." 

After some lunch, I went to Geyl's house. I knew it 
was a Hollander's home by the bicycles in the doorway. 
Geyl, who opened the door, proved to be an impressive 
gentleman — a tall man with the gray beard of the wise 
and the narrow smile of the aristocrat. He was wearing 
an unobtrusive hearing aid, a blue tie, an English-style 
gray jacket, and gray trousers. He invited me to follow 
him up a narrow wooden stairway, and showed me into 
his study. It was as thick with books as the Toynbee 
Room, but Geyl's books had a distinctly modern look. 
Behind his desk was a two-shelf display of various edi- 
tions and translations of his works. He picked out the 



154 * Fty an d the Fly-Bottle 

smallest volume, his English translation of the four- 
teenth-century Dutch play "Lancelot of Denmark," and, 
holding it close to his heart, read aloud, in a soft English: 

"Now hear what we intend to play. 
'Tis all about a valiant knight, 
Who loved a lady day and night. 
Noble of heart she was and pure, 
But of lowly birth for very sure." 

Returning the book to the shelf, he said, "How I've loved 
history!" We sat down under what Geyl told me was his 
favorite print of his mentor, Erasmus, and near the 
window, which looked out on the Biltse Straatweg — a 
road along which, in the Second World War, the Dutch 
Army had retreated and then the liberating Canadian 
Army had advanced. 

"I am by nature a talker," Geyl began, "and unless 
somebody baits me, making me angry, I tend to go on 
talking. Do you mind?" 

I said no indeed. 

"Until my chance encounter with Toynbee," Geyl said, 
"I rather prided myself on my ignorance about the philos- 
ophy of history; he made me take my first step toward 
wisdom by regretting my ignorance. My fame as a 
philosopher of history is not only accidental but gra- 
tuitous. Toynbee has done for me in the historical world 
what Margot Fonteyn did for me at Oxford." He pointed 
to a picture on the opposite wall, which showed him, tall 
and serious in an academic gown, beside the graceful and 
striking Margot Fonteyn, also in an academic gown. "She 



Argument Without End • 155 

and I received honorary degrees at Oxford the same 
year," Geyl said. "When we walked through the streets 
in academic procession, no one had eyes for anybody but 
her. I was her neighbor, and because of that I was 
noticed. I encountered Toynbee when an English journal- 
ist who was visiting me here in 1946 asked me if I'd heard 
of 'A Study of History.' I said I hadn't. Out of polite- 
ness, he sent me as much of it as had been published. I 
was struck by the first half of what I read, but by the sec- 
ond half I was completely disenchanted. In the mean- 
time, Jan Romein — he is a historical materialist, and 
thinks that all unphilosophical historians are helpless 
sailors on the sea of history, while historical philosophers 
like himself and Toynbee are the captains — was using 
it as part of his seminar in a rival Dutch university. I 
decided to bait him a little, and did so by making Toyn- 
bee's determinism the subject of an attack in a paper 
I delivered before our national Historical Association. 
The B.B.C. must have got wind of my argument with 
Romein, for it invited me to debate with Toynbee on the 
Third Programme. I faced Toynbee on the wireless, and 
accused him of dipping into the caldron of facts and tak- 
ing only those which fitted his theories. He said all his- 
torians approached facts with theories, and if they denied 
this, they were simply ignorant of the workings of their 
own minds. I said all systems were doomed to disap- 
pointment. He said people who believed that took the 
view that history was nonsense. I said no, they didn't. 
So it went. When the remainder of his 'Study' came 



156 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

out, I flayed him for finding a panacea for our troubles 
in a universal religion. In 'Reconsiderations' he made 
me 'the spokesman of the jury.' He said I had been 'plain- 
tively asking for answers.' 'Plaintively' is not quite 
the word." Geyl smiled his narrow smile. "I demolished 
his 'Reconsiderations' with a pamphlet," he continued. 
"The trouble with Toynbee is that, because of his re- 
ligion, he will not acquiesce, like us secularists, in hu- 
man ignorance. Like Faust, he tries to know more than 
can be known. I was saved from Toynbee's religion and 
Toynbee's fate by a priest. When I was eleven or twelve, 
I wandered into a cathedral and found myself in the 
middle of Vespers. I started going there every day about 
six o'clock — mostly for the music, I suppose. One day, 
a priest came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder 
and said, 'Little boy — ' I raced out of the cathedral and 
have never returned." He brought out of his pocket a 
copy of what he told me was the only sonnet he had ever 
written in English. "This sonnet," he said, tapping the 
piece of paper, "composed in a concentration camp, con- 
tains my philosophy, and colors my historical thinking." 
Without a pause, he rushed through the sonnet: 

"The stars are fright'ning. The cold universe, 
Boundless and silent, goes revolving on, 
Worlds without end. The grace of God is gone. 
A vast indifference, deadlier than a curse, 
Chills our poor globe, which Heaven seemed to nurse 
So fondly. 'Twas God's rainbow when it shone, 
Until we searched. Now, as we count and con 
Gusts of infinity, our hopes disperse. 



Argument Without End • 157 

Well, if it's so, then turn your eyes away 
From Heav'n. Look at the earth, in its array 
Of life and beauty. — Transitory? Maybe, 
But so are you. Let stark eternity 
Heed its own self, and you, enjoy your day, 
And when death calls, then quietly obey." 

He sighed. "How I wish I could argue Toynbee out of 
some of his ideas!" he said. Then, abruptly changing the 
subject, he asked, "Have you read Carr's 'What Is His- 
tory?' — this year's Trevelyan lectures?" 

I said I had. 

"Well," he announced, "I am giving the Trevelyan 
lectures next year. They will probably be on Dutch his- 
tory and my historical revolution, which Taylor has called 
one of the most beautiful historical operations in our 
lifetime.' Good heavens, if I had accepted some of the 
theoretical pronouncements of my Trevelyan predeces- 
sor, my operation probably couldn't have been per- 
formed at all. And if anyone had taken seriously — 
thanks to me, not many people did — historians like 
Toynbee, who go in for simple explanations of things, 
the result would have been much the same." 

I asked him to say more about this. 

"Carr, in his lectures, gives no role to fortuitous events," 
he said. "But, good heavens, the division of the six- 
teenth-century Netherlands into Holland, in the north, 
and Belgium, in the south — what was it if not fortuitous? 
You know, before the sixteenth century all this area was 
one Netherlands. But the Spaniards succeeded in hold- 



158 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

ing on to only the southern half. Before my revolution, 
it was thought that the Spaniards were unable to subdue 
the rebellious northern provinces because of the differ- 
ence between the Flemish and Dutch temperaments. The 
southerners, the Flemings, were flighty, frivolous, light- 
hearted — an easy prey to Catholicism. The northerners 
were serious, hard-working, commercial-minded, and 
Calvinist — therefore not an easy prey to Catholicism. 
My revolution consisted in advancing a simple military 
explanation in place of all this abstract theory. I said the 
reason the Spaniards didn't subjugate the north was that 
they were stopped by the great rivers — the Rhine and 
the Meuse. My discovery was borne out by General 
Montgomery, eight, nine months before the end of the 
European phase of the Second World War, when he, too, 
was stopped, at the Battle of Arnhem, by the fortuitous 
rivers. You see the dangers of imposing theories on 
facts?" 

Geyl paused, and I nodded. 

"The infuriating thing about Toynbee, a historical ma- 
terialist like Romein, a determinist like Carr is that they 
believe in laws," Geyl continued. "But I say — you'll find 
it in my book 'Napoleon: For and Against' — that history 
is an argument without end." We could agree, he said, 
about simple facts — the Second World War began in 
1939 — but such facts were a very small part of history; 
the rest was made up of judgments of events, situations, 
and characters, and they would be debated till dooms- 
day. "In my 'Napoleon,' " Geyl went on, "I surveyed alj 



Argument Without End • 159 

the century-and-a-half-old arguments about Napoleon. 
What historians from generation to generation thought 
about him — whether in their eyes he was in or out — 
depended, it turned out, upon the politics of the time. 
Have you read the book?" 

I said I had, and remembered well the famous "Argu- 
ment" passage: 

"To expect from history those final conclusions, which 
may perhaps be obtained in other disciplines, is, in my 
opinion, to misunderstand its nature. . . . The scientific 
method serves above all to establish facts; there is a 
great deal about which we can reach agreement by its 
use. But as soon as there is a question of explanation, 
of interpretation, of appreciation, though the special 
method of the historian remains valuable, the personal 
element can no longer be ruled out — that point of view 
which is determined by the circumstances of his time 
and by his own preconceptions. . . . Truth, though for 
God it may be One, assumes many shapes to men. Thus 
it is that the analysis of so many conflicting opinions 
concerning one historical phenomenon is not just a 
means of whiling away the time, nor need it lead to 
discouraging conclusions concerning the untrustworthi- 
ness of historical study. The study even of contradictory 
conceptions can be fruitful. . . . History is indeed an 
argument without end." 

With a smile, he now added, "Good heavens, if there 
were such a thing as objective history, people would 
have made, up their minds about Napoleon long ago." 



i6o • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

Like a good lecturer, Geyl read the questions in my 
mind and, instead of my putting them to him, put them 
to me. "Have you read Taylor's 'Origins of the Second 
World War?" he asked. 

I said I had. 

"I pasted that book in a review," he said proudly, "and, 
through correspondence, have been arguing with him 
about his thesis ever since. In his letters to me he says 
that, contrary to all the allegations, he has not gone out 
of his way to provoke, to create a sensation, to con- 
found everybody with paradoxes. He says he wrote the 
book with truth and objectivity as his only touchstones. 
He says he objectively discovered Hitler to be just an- 
other statesman. He insists Hitler was a godsend, for 
if anybody more shrewd than Hitler had come along, he 
might have dominated Europe without a war. He says 
his book is not an apology for Chamberlain, not an apol- 
ogy for the policy of appeasement, but simply an expla- 
nation of them. I say, what is an explanation if not an 
apology? I wrote to him insisting that Hitler was not 
just another statesman but a unique phenomenon. I 
said that he, Taylor, had been too faithful to his printed 
documents, that he had overlooked the temper of Ger- 
many in the thirties — the street gangs, the S.S., the S.A., 
the whole Nazi phenomenon. I said that to write about 
Hitier and the war as though it were all a natural conse- 
quence of the Treaty of Versailles, and leave out of the 
calculation Hitler the freak of nature, dynamism gone 
mad, and the reasons for his success — the acute depres- 



Argument Without End • 161 

sion and the complete collapse of the economy in the 
early thirties — was bad history. I insisted that a his- 
torian was inevitably limited by his time, his period, his 
situation, and that there was no such thing as objective 
history. To make my point, I sent him copies of my cor- 
respondence with my intimate friend Carel Gerretson —I 
am going to include them in a small volume of my let- 
ters." 

Geyl was by now as excited as a lecturer at the climax 
of an oration. Getting up, he feverishly rummaged in his 
desk for the Gerretson letters, without, however, stopping 
the flow of his words. He told me that Gerretson was a 
Dutch poet, historian, and politician, and he explained the 
context of one particular letter. It was written in 1939 
and concerned one Dr. Hendrik Krekel, who was a jour- 
nalist. "You see," Geyl said, "when a Hague daily stopped 
publishing Krekel's weekly reviews of the international 
situation, Krekel collected some of them and brought 
them out in pamphlet form. Gerretson forwarded the 
pamphlet to me, challenging me to deny that the re- 
views were models of objectivity, fair-mindedness, and 
good journalism. What I wrote" — interrupting himself 
to exclaim "Here it is!," he triumphantly fished out of a 
drawer the relevant letter to Gerretson — "about Krekel 
then applies just as much to the sort of history Taylor 
writes." He read, in a loud, clear voice, " 'Krekel's exposi- 
tions no doubt have their interest. There is something at- 
tractive in this method of systematically connecting 
events with earlier phases; the writer has a keen mind. 



162 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

But objective? When a man writes in a quiet and matter- 
of-fact way, avoids the use of big words, does not be- 
tray any emotion or express any sympathy, letting his 
conclusions or opinions appear only in the most moderate 
terms or even obliquely — that does not make him ob- 
jective. Krekel does not waste words on the moral worth, 
or, let me say, on the anti-moral, anti-human tendencies 
of the German regime; at most, he mentions them once in 
a while when he notices that the horror evoked by them 
elsewhere constitutes a factor. The feverishness inher- 
ent in every dictatorship, the need to register successes, 
the absence of all counterweight of criticism — all such 
factors Krekel leaves out of account in his estimates, or at 
least does not give them their due weight. In this I see 
the symptoms of a feeling of affinity with the German 
system, or of moral blindness; at any rate, no objectivity. 
Those elements must be taken into account in every 
higher synthesis. To keep talking all the time in terms of 
power politics, imperialism versus imperialism — let it 
be in itself as able and well-informed as you please, it 
denotes a one-sidedness which must lead to formidable 
miscalculations.'" Putting the letter down, Geyl said, 
"How true all this is of Taylor! Krekel and Taylor not 
only are trying to do the impossible but are gravely err- 
ing. Taylor is still writing old-fashioned political history, 
from which it appears that the great issues of the world 
are settled in Foreign Offices rather than in society at 
large." Some aspects of Taylor's history, Geyl said, had 
an all too imposing ancestry in Sir Lewis Namier's work. 



Argument Without End • 163 

Namier all of the time and Taylor much of the time had 
no real respect for statesmen and policies, ideas and 
ideologies, which for them, as for Freud, were simply re- 
flexes — responses to subconscious influences. Because 
of its purely factual approach, Namier-Taylor history had 
a kind of pointedness, a kind of dramatic quality, a kind 
of brilliance; in their hands history took wings as only 
good stories did, but their picture of the society was no 
more than a bird's-eye view of it. 

For the first time, Geyl's voice became freighted with 
emotion. Until then, he had been talking like a European 
professor, who is more used to lecturing than to holding 
tutorials or seminars. His arguments were clear and 
limpid, but one felt that they had already taken place, 
rather than — as in a good tutorial or seminar — that they 
were still in the future. Now he seemed a little confused, 
as though he were still debating something in his mind. 

" 'The Origins of the Second World War' is dreadful 
history," Geyl said. "But Taylor has eulogized me — 
you've seen his article on my seventieth birthday?" 

I said I had. 

"Well, then," he said, "it would be only reasonable 
that I should have agreed to contribute to a Festschrift 
that a man at Oxford is organizing for him. But I re- 
fused. Do you think I was right? Or — " 

Just then we were interrupted by a red-cheeked wom- 
an, only a little shorter than Geyl, who came in carrying 
a couple of cups of tea. She introduced herself as his 
wife, and said as she handed us the tea, "I hope my hus- 



164 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

band found all the books and papers he needed. He is 
so untidy that I don't know what he would do without 
me." With that, she left us. 

"I don't know what I would do without her," Geyl 
echoed. "We used to bicycle a lot before the Utrecht 
traffic got so heavy. Now we pass the time playing 
draughts." 

I asked Geyl a question that had been troubling me 
for some time — how controversy could be a way to the 
truth. In return, he told me a story. "During the Second 
World War," he said, "the great French historian Lucien 
Febvre proposed that, to keep the spirits of the French 
youth high, they should be encouraged to read Jules 
Michelet, the Romantic historian. Michelet was in- 
tensely nationalistic. He always talked about 'the great 
French nation;' for him, France was the creme de la 
creme of nations. In one of my essays, I attacked Febvre 
for his Micheletism. When Febvre came to Utrecht, a 
friend invited me to lunch with him, and I went, pre- 
pared for a good intellectual fight about Michelet. But 
when I broached the subject, he simply said, 'I do not 
wish to discuss it.' " Geyl produced his narrow, aristo- 
cratic smile. "Good heavens, what future is there to his- 
tory if you take that attitude? For me, as I've said, history 
is an argument without end, and temperamentally I am a 
born polemicist — but not, of course, on the scale of 
Trevor-Roper." 

Geyl's mind, perhaps, was like Trevor-Roper's, I 
thought, but as a man he streamed with a charm no less 



Argument Without End • 165 

engulfing than Toynbee's; even his vanity and his haugh- 
tiness were engaging. It was easy to see how in argu- 
ment he could get the better of Toynbee. But Carr and 
Taylor were different matters. There was much more to 
Carr than his theory about fortuitous events, and from 
the little history I knew, it seemed to me, judging Geyl 
in accordance with his dictum — "A historian is inevitably 
limited by his time, period, situation" — that some of his 
strong feelings against Taylor and "The Origins of the 
Second World War" could be explained by his political 
conservatism, Holland's proximity to Germany, his war 
memories of Hitler, his suffering at the hands of the Ger- 
mans ( he was in Buchenwald for a year ) , and, above all, 
perhaps, the different visions that Geyl and Taylor had 
of the future. Taylor had pinpointed this very difference 
in the conclusion of his Geyl panegyric. "Geyl speaks for 
the Europe of the past as well as for the Europe of the 
present," he had written. "He loves them both; and he 
believes, as I do, that they present the highest point 
which humanity has achieved. If his principles and 
passions mislead him, it is, I think, more in relation 
to the future than to the past. Loving the past so much, 
he cannot believe that it will come to an end. He can- 
not believe that Europeans will cease to care for indi- 
vidual liberty and national diversity. I am not so sure. 
It seems to me possible that men may come soon to 
live only in the present; and that they will forget their 
historical inheritance in favour of television sets and 
washing machines. There will be no classes, no na- 



i66 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

tions, no religions; only a single humanity freed from 
labour by the electric current of atomic-power stations. 
European history will then be as dead as the history of 
ancient Egypt; interesting as a field of study but with 
nothing to say to us. . . . Our last conversation was just 
after the end of the Suez affair. I was jubilant. . . . Na- 
tional independence (of Egypt) had been vindicated; 
Anglo-French aggression had been defeated. Geyl was 
gloomy: he saw only the passing of European predomi- 
nance. I think he was wrong. The Geyl of the twenty- 
first century may be an Indian or a Chinese — even per- 
haps an Egyptian. But maybe our light is going out. 
What matter? It has burnt with a noble flame." 

To most Englishmen, whether philistine-barbarians or 
Hellenist-Hebraics, Taylor is not an unfamiliar figure, for 
his name appears in print with the regularity of the Sab- 
bath or the scheduled television programs, and whether 
one's approach to culture is through newspapers (he ap- 
pears in intellectual papers, like the Observer, the Guard- 
ian, the New Statesman, and in popular ones, like the 
Beaverbrook press), broadcasts (he often appears on 
television programs like "Brains Trust" and "Free 
Speech"), textbooks ("The Struggle for Mastery in 
Europe: 1848-1918"), a university (he is one of the three 
or four best lecturers at Oxford), or politics (he is a re- 
calcitrant bow in the hair of the Labour Party, and a 
luminary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), 
Taylor inevitably turns out to be one of the main gate- 



Argument Without End • 167 

ways. At Magdalen, his Oxford college, where I had 
dined two or three times, Taylor was often to be found 
in the Senior Common Room at mealtimes on weekdays, 
his glasses resting rather forbiddingly on his big nose as 
he talked in a clipped, acid voice to half a dozen alter- 
nately solemn and amused colleagues. He had a special 
way with anecdotes, including a special way of smacking 
his lips, often as a signal that he was about to tell an im- 
portant story. As an undergraduate, I had sat in on some 
of his lectures. They tended to be sliced into equal 
halves, one meaty with the solid specificity of history and 
the other juicy with histrionics, but among the undergrad- 
uates, always pressed for time, it was Taylor's use of his 
day that was most marvelled at. It was said that he often 
read and reviewed a book before breakfast, which he 
took at eight o'clock. Then he worked steadily through 
original documents (in five languages), with a break for 
lunch, until late in the afternoon, when he met his tutees. 
(He was patient and meticulous with clever pupils, im- 
patient and hasty with the plodders. ) He might finish off 
his day by listening to music (for which he had a real 
passion ) , by distributing his wit, like Dr. Johnson, among 
his Oxford colleagues at the dinner table, or by talking, 
like his hero John Bright, in a lecture hall in London. 
Indeed, sometimes he spent half the week in London, 
where he worked out of several libraries — at a little more 
relaxed pace, it was hoped — and led the public life of a 
prima donna. Even among those discriminating col- 
leagues of his who deplored certain of his activities, 



i68 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

Taylor remained the subject of a sneaking admiration. 
One distinguished man of letters at Oxford, to whom 
comparisons and analogies, though hedged with qualifi- 
cations, came as easily as daydreams come to most of 
us, had once summed Taylor up as "the Tolstoy of our 
time — um, with a difference," going on to explain, "Like 
Tolstoy, Taylor thinks the historical field of force is the 
microscopic facts, those millions of telegrams and dis- 
patches, but while Tolstoy didn't think one could make 
sense of it — he was humble — Taylor thinks one can." 
The perversity of his responses to situations, which in un- 
dergraduate conversation was never far behind the men- 
tion of his name, was scarcely less a subject for wonder. 
One don recalled how he had found himself at a meeting 
of a Peace Congress behind the Iron Curtain and, glanc- 
ing at the roster of speakers, had discovered Taylor's 
name there. "In the first place," he told me, with much 
relish, "it was astonishing that Taylor should be there at 
all — it was a very Party-line conference. Then, that he 
should be speaking! But the miracle was the speech he 
gave, to a dumb, stony house — it was dyed-in-the-wool 
conservative. And then he had the gall to come over to 
me and whisper in my ear, T've been dreaming of giving 
a speech like that since God knows when!' In Oxford, 
at a meeting of blue-blooded Conservatives, he would 
have delivered a stinging Left Wing harangue." 

When I wrote to Taylor asking if he would talk about 
his view of history, he — unlike most other historians — 
made a perverse response. "I have no theories of history 



Argument Without End • 169 

and I know nothing about them/' he said. On reflection, 
this seemed more than contrary. He had written reviews 
dealing with practically all historical theoreticians, in- 
cluding Toynbee, Geyl, and Carr; he had been taken to 
task for his own theories of history by Trevor-Roper; and 
his lectures — indeed, his writings — many times turned 
out to be illustrations of his view that history is made up 
of accidents, with statesmen and politicians more often 
than not unable to control the events around them. But 
ultimately he agreed to talk to me at his suburban Lon- 
don house. I found Taylor in his living room one morn- 
ing at eleven o'clock. He was wearing a mushroom-gray 
corduroy suit; his hair, which, though he is fifty-six, is 
abundant and only slightly gray, was neatly combed; and 
his glasses were forbidding as ever (he seemed to be 
peering at the world through a microscope ) , but the most 
noticeable thing about him was a permanent frown line 
— a sort of exclamation point — between the fierce circles 
of his eyes. Unlike Geyl's, the room was not inundated 
with historical works, though, as with Geyl, there was an 
impressive exhibit of books — they were displayed in a 
cabinet near a piano. 

I said I understood he was "the real successor to 
Namier." 

"I'm not sure I'd want to be his successor, though no 
one would deny his super gifts," he said, then added, 
"He took the mind out of politics, so I don't think he'll 
survive." The implication was that he himself did wish 
to survive. "Nobody would deny that Namier understood 



170 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

Freud, but so do most professional journalists. Further- 
more, his attitude to psychoanalysis was more that of a 
patient than that of a psychoanalyst. It is thought that I 
was Namier's pupil. Strictly speaking, he was my pupil." 

I said, "What do you mean?" 

"During my eight-year spell at Manchester University, 
I instructed him in marking examination papers, in the 
hours of his lectures, and even in the subject matter of 
his classes," Taylor said. "For example, I used to send 
him little notes saying, 'You're meeting your class at such- 
and-such an hour, and it is a general, not an honors, 
class, so include dates in your lecture.' So you see, strictly 
speaking, he was my pupil in many tilings, though actual- 
ly he was a professor at the university and I was an as- 
sistant lecturer." 

I had been told at Oxford that during Namier's life- 
time, Taylor had felt himself to be a little bit in his 
shadow. There was not a trace of his shadow in the 
room now, however; in fact, Taylor gave the impression 
of having come into his own quite early. His conversa- 
tion was tough and theatrical, and his small, pointed 
mouth had a way of snapping on words, like a rat trap. 
He talked as though he were seated at dinner in the 
Senior Common Room, with the assembled dons paying 
close attention to his words. 

Treading gently, I approached his territory by asking 
him what Namier would have thought of "The Origins 
of the Second World War." (Although Trevor-Roper, in 
his review, had confidently asserted that the great his- 



Argument Without End • 171 

torian would have squashed it, others had said, with 
equal assurance, that Namier would have saluted it. ) 

"He would probably have both liked it and not liked 
it," Taylor said wryly. "Take his 'Diplomatic Prelude.' 
It is distinctly a two-sided work. On the one hand, it re- 
counts the mistakes of everybody. On the other hand, it 
reasserts Namier's lifelong anti-Germanism. My book 
can be read in two ways. In one way, it may sort of ex- 
onerate Hitler by saying the war was a mistake; in an- 
other, by letting Hitler off, it may make all Germans re- 
sponsible for the war. Namier wouldn't have liked the 
implications about Hitler, but he might have been pleased 
by the anti-German implications." 

Taylor was a beguiling man to talk with, partly be- 
cause of his ability to turn everything one expected him 
to say topsy-turvy. "American critics were far cleverer 
than the English reviewers," he said now. "They de- 
clared the book to be bad because of its present-day 
implications: if all Germans are culpable for the war, then 
the present Western policy toward Germany is wrong. 
I have written that the First World War was a mistake, 
and I have written that the Second World War was a 
mistake." 

He snapped his lips shut, and, for the first time, I felt 
the full political impact ( as Trevor-Roper must have ) of 
one sentence in the "Origins": "The war of 1939, far from 
being premeditated, was a mistake, the result on both 
sides of diplomatic blunders" — a sentence accurately 
described by the publisher on the book jacket as "shat- 



172 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

tering." If history was made up of "accidents," then there 
wasn't much hope for the future, for avoiding the Third 
World War. "Liking the book," Taylor said, "becomes a 
matter of politics. If you're a Left Winger and are against 
the bomb and the arming of Germany, you may be in 
sympathy with the thesis; if you're a conservative, a mili- 
tarist, and for Germany in nato, you may not be." Super- 
ficially, this seemed reasonable and free of paradoxical 
spikes, but on closer inspection it became something dif- 
ferent; history seemed not only to be falling from the 
grace of objectivity to personal prejudices but to be slip- 
ping down into the abyss of political bias. Even if this 
could be explained on the ground of recent memories of 
the events under review, what followed couldn't be. "Ob- 
viously, historians like Sir John Wheeler-Bennett and 
Alan Bullock and the younger American practitioners 
are hostile to my book because, whether they know it or 
not, they have vested interests," Taylor was saying. 
"They have written textbooks, and they have their own 
books and legends to sell." It was difficult to tell whether 
or not Taylor was serious. 

Now, however, he switched from the treacherous 
ground of ad-hominem argument to the safer one of evi- 
dence. "Until I started studying the records, I, like many 
of my reviewers, had swallowed the legends about pre- 
war history," he said. "I had accepted, for example — 
it's written in all the books — that Hitler sent for Schusch- 
nigg. But when I looked into the records I discovered 
that it was the other way around — Schuschnigg asked to 
see Hitler." He seemed to be saying that small facts 



Argument Without End • 173 

could change our picture of the past. "I was talking to 
Ian Gilmour, past editor of the Spectator, the other day," 
Taylor went on, smacking his lips, "who doesn't agree 
with my thesis. I told him two facts that, to say the least, 
surprised him. I told him that in the thirties the fate of 
the Jews in Poland was far worse than the fate of the 
Jews in Germany, and that in the thirties there were no 
extermination camps in Germany. Most people, like 
Ian, believe the reverse; prewar history is shrouded in 
legend. The records, however, just don't corroborate 
the legends. I wrote my history from the records. Ian 
and others project the later madness of Hitler back into 
the thirties. Without the carnage of the war, I wonder 
if he would have stumbled onto the idea of the gas 
chambers. In actual fact, even according to Bullock's 
'Hitler,' which represents the orthodoxy, Hitler, avoiding 
the use of force, which would have been suicidal, be- 
came Chancellor and carried out the Nazi revolution by 
legal, rational means, and conducted his foreign policy 
shrewdly — no more madly, insanely, than any other 
statesman. According to the records, Hitler did his feeble 
best. Yes, he had his lunatic vision — and 'Mein Kampf 
is a record of it — but he didn't behave like a lunatic all 
the time. I think all statesmen ought to be considered 
first on the basis of what they were trying to do, and 
what they did, according to the records. They ought to 
be taken as statesmen, as rational beings, before we resort 
to extraordinary, escapist, and easy explanations, like 
'He was just insane.'" He again snapped shut his lips. 
Some had traced the furor against the Hitier book to 



174 * Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

Taylor's nihilist view of history ( "a tale told by an idiot, 
full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"). If there 
were overtones of the "idiot" view in his notion of acci- 
dent, his attempt to find a rationale for Germany's be- 
havior muffled them. Now, like Namier, Taylor under- 
rated the role of plans and ideas; now, unlike Namier, he 
found a "statesman," a man who had ideas and policies, 
even in Hitler. Moreover, while Namier might list the 
people who owed their jobs to, say, Thomas Pelham- 
Holles, Duke of Newcastle, the eighteenth-century poli- 
tician, and note their tendencies to vote as a group in 
favor of Newcastle's policies ( he stopped short of saying, 
"They voted with Newcastle because they owed their 
jobs to him." If there was even a hint of diagnosis — "X 
professes that he voted Whig principles, when actually 
he had no choice but to fall in line with his patron" — it 
was contained in bringing the true facts to the surface ) , 
Taylor, at least in the "Origins," subordinated his facts 
( how Hitler and Schuschnigg met, what the state of Jews 
in Germany was) to a thesis and to professed ideas and 
motives — of the dependent, say, in my Namier example, 
or of Hitler in his own book. 

Taylor now turned to his critics, and impaled them on 
his quick wit. Beginning in a low key, he first dismissed 
Geyl in the terms one might have expected. "Geyl is too 
much of a moral historian," he said. "In his book on 
Napoleon, he roundly condemns him; I am not sure we 
should condemn him. Napoleon, like Hitler, went from 
stage to stage. Geyl thinks I ought to keep saying, again 



Argument Without End • 175 

and again, 'Hitler was a wicked man.' I tend to think that 
once I have written a sentence about Hitler's wicked- 
ness I have dealt with the subject. Besides, Geyl has too 
many personal memories of Nazism." He stopped, as 
though he feared that he was saying something ordinary. 
He turned to Trevor-Roper, and up came the surprise- 
package side of Taylor's character again. "Hughie 
shouldn't have attacked me, because my views really 
agree with his," he said. "Not only did I agree with him 
when he attacked Toynbee and Carr — he wrote at 
length what most of us really thought, though he did go 
on a little too long, and also his 'Carr' came much too late 
— but we look at history in the same way. Unlike Hughie, 
I may be a determinist — I believe in large trends, like 
the continuous growth of German power before the 
First World War — but I always write very detailed 
studies, in which it is the accidents that seem to stick 
out and make up history. My books, therefore, really 
turn out to be illustrations of free will — to which 
Hughie attaches so much importance." 

This was not only paradoxical but a little incompre- 
hensible; the belief in "accidents" seemed to be a round- 
about way to determinism, not to voluntarism. I wanted 
to clear up this theoretical confusion, but Taylor went 
straight on. 

"The difference between Hughie and me may be no 
more than that of definition," he said. "If you regard a 
plan as a great vision, then, of course, Hitler did have 
a plan — a lunatic vision. But if you define 'plan' as I do, 



176 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

a plan of day-to-day moves, then Hitler didn't have one. 
In this connection, a review of my book that meant a 
great deal to me was written by a Cambridge historian, 
F. H. Hinsley. He defined 'plan' in yet another way. He 
said that while Hitler may not have had a pattern, the 
more he succeeded the more of a pattern he got; suc- 
cess became his pattern. This, I think, is a fruitful ap- 
proach. But" — Taylor sighed, then stood up and started 
pacing the room — "Hughie's attack on me was full of 
misquotations and misreadings. Robert Kee, the modera- 
tor of our television debate, told me about Hughie's mis- 
takes, and it was due to him that I looked into his article 
carefully and wrote my 'Exercises for Beginners.'" 

Pausing in front of a shelf of his work, he took out of 
his collection "Englishmen and Others" (published five 
years before the Professor's Encounter attack), and 
brought it over to his chair. "I will read you something 
to show how much I admire Hughie," he said, looking 
through the book. "After I'd heard that Hughie was 
preparing an attack on the 'Origins,' the newspapers, by 
leaving out a 'not,' misquoted me on him." He was still 
looking for his passage. "What I really said was not 'It 
should be very amusing. He knows as much about twen- 
tieth-century history as I do about seventeenth -century 
history — which is to say nothing at all' but 'It should 
be very amusing. He knows as much about twentieth- 
century history as I do about seventeenth-century history 
— which is not to say nothing at all.' " 

He laughed dryly, as though to say that journalism 



Argument Without End • 177 

wasn't what it should be, and then, in an unexpectedly 
tender voice, read his accolade to Trevor-Roper. It was 
no less generous than his appraisal of Geyl, and it struck 
me that, however he belied it ( to many it could come as 
a surprise), Taylor was a historian with great warmth: 

"No one cares now about Germany's bid to conquer 
Europe. Few care about the fate of Adolf Hitler. In the 
present situation of international politics both are better for- 
gotten. Mr. Trevor-Roper's book ["The Last Days of Hitler"] 
would be forgotten along with them if it merely solved the 
riddle to which he was originally set. But it transcended its 
subject. Though it treated of evil men and degraded themes, 
it vindicated human reason. In a world where emotion has 
taken the place of judgment and where hysteria has become 
meritorious, Mr. Trevor-Roper has remained as cool and 
detached as any philosopher of the Enlightenment. Fools 
and lunatics may overrun the world; but later on, in some 
future century, a rational man will rediscover The Last 
Days of Hitler' and realize that there were men of his own 
sort still alive. He will wish, as every rational man must, 
that he had written Mr. Trevor-Roper's book. There are 
not many books in our age of which that could be said." 

Resuming the subject of the controversy about the 
"Origins," he said, "The trouble with my book may be 
that in a number of places I left my own side very 
weak. I tend to think that if I have written one or two 
sentences about a theme, I repeat, that's the end of it, 
that's enough. In the first place, I know I know. In the 
second place, I know other people know; after all, I 
didn't write my book to be read as the only book on 
the origins of the Second World War. Now I am think- 



178 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

ing of writing a long preface, when the storm has died 
down, in which I will answer my critics and point up 
some of the arguments for my case. Like the one about 
German armament: If Hitler had planned war in 1939, 
why weren't there more armament preparations in Ger- 
many?" Then he made the point that the future could 
add an element to the understanding of the past, and 
finished by saying, "I am a revisionist about the causes 
of the Second World War, but what would really em- 
barrass me would be if someone like Harry Elmer 
Barnes, one of those raving American revisionists of the 
First World War, should like my book." (Within two 
months, Barnes was in print with a three-column letter 
to the New York Times extolling Taylor's book and 
attacking its reviewer in that paper.) 

A boy of eleven or twelve, Taylor's son, sauntered in 
and, sitting down at the piano, ran through some scales. 
Over his shoulder, he informed me intensely that he 
was taking part in a neighborhood music festival that 
afternoon. He as much as turned us out of the room. 
We went outside into a small yard, at the edge of a 
quiet street, and, leaning over the hedge, Taylor talked 
a bit about himself. "I suppose"— he smacked his lips — 
"I am a sort of conventional radical from the north. I 
was educated in a Quaker school and then went to 
Oriel, Oxford — where I was the only member of the 
Labour Club in the college. I would have gone to 
Balliol if I hadn't messed up my examination." 

In Oxford, there was a legend that Taylor, in applying 



Argument Without End • 179 

for entrance to Balliol, had done very well on his 
written papers but that at the interview, when he was 
asked what he planned to do after going down, he had 
characteristically replied, "Blow it up." Few, if any, 
of his interviewers at the serious college had cracked a 
smile; they had just kept the would-be petroleur out. I 
asked Taylor if the story had a basis in fact. He 
chuckled, and replied, "If it does, I said, 'Oxford should 
be blown up.' " He sighed ( sighing was one of his 
many histrionic mannerisms, as dramatic as his phrasing ) , 
and said, "Now I have a vested interest in Oxford and 
I don't think it ought to be blown up quite yet — not 
till I am retired. [Sometime later, Taylor created a flurry 
in the newspapers by threatening to leave Oxford if his 
special lectureship — gravy from the university for sen- 
ior dons — were terminated, as the regulations required.] 
I like living in Oxford. I like the surroundings, the life. 
But by no means am I as happy at Oxford as I was in 
noisy, industrial Manchester." The ordinary attitude, of 
course, would have been the reverse. He went on in 
the same vein. "The countryside around Manchester is 
much more pleasant than the countryside around Ox- 
ford. Besides, I was young and had young friends, and 
we used to go out of the city three or four days a week 
and have a lot of fun. The other thing besides my 
radicalism that shows through my writing of history is 
my northernness. You see, in the north people are much 
tougher; in the south they are more traditional, conserva- 
tive - soft." 



i8o • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

I mentioned his journalistic activities, and got an un- 
expected response. 

"I don't know whether I am more a professional 
journalist or a historian," he said, and, perhaps realizing 
from my expression that I thought this a strange remark 
for one of the leading English historians to make, he 
said something even stranger. "If you look at my income, 
you will find I get more money out of journalism than 
I do out of history." 

I asked him what he meant by "a professional 
journalist." 

"A professional journalist is he who pleases his editor," 
Taylor said. He seemed to delight in my puzzlement. 
"I think the Sunday Express [most educated English- 
men consider it a rag] is a much better paper — I have 
a contract with it — than the Times. The Times is soft- 
headed. When you see the causes they have sponsored 
in the past, you can't help coming out on the side of 
the Sunday Express." All of a sudden, he made a con- 
cession to my growing bewilderment. "It is only fair 
to say," he added, pinching his nose, "that I was brought 
up in the Manchester Guardian tradition. We didn't 
take to the Times at all." 

He turned to a discussion of his methods of writ- 
ing. "I try not to write more than a thousand words a 
day. This is a negative principle, as I do not positively 
write a thousand words a day; it's just that I won't 
write anything more than that. Since I am writing for 
the papers all the time — besides teaching, though never 



Argument Without End • 18 1 

more than ten hours a week — I never get more than 
two or three thousand words done on a book in a week. 
Much of my past work thus far I have written from 
intellectual capital, stored up from my earlier researches, 
but the book I am working on now is quite another 
matter." It was a major work for the fifteen-volume 
"The Oxford History of England" from Roman Britain 
to the present, he told me, and was to cover English 
history from 1914 to 1945. "Also," he went on, "some of 
my time is taken up with just getting hold of the books 
I need. I am not a book hoarder; I work out of the 
libraries, and although at Oxford I can get to books 
quite easily, the closest library here is about five miles 
away. But I am fast on the typewriter." 

A car started somewhere down the street, and Taylor 
stopped talking until it had passed. I asked him whether 
he had been to America. 

"Yes and no," he answered. "I went across to Canada 

— to New Brunswick, to get an honorary degree — and 
then I did look America full in the face. I leaned over" 

— he bent forward —"and had a good look at the hills 
of Maine. So in a way I have been and not been." 

I asked him if he had a wish to visit America. 

"I don't think so," he said. "I have two interests. One 
is buildings, and America doesn't have any buildings — 
I mean old buildings, like cathedrals. The other interest 
is food and wine. From my little experience of Canada, 
the Americans have neither good food nor good drink. 
In this interest I am an unconventional radical. You 



182 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

see, I have been corrupted by the good life; I now find 
even living in industrial cities depressing. I imagine, 
as societies, America and Russia have a lot in common." 

"What do you think of Russia?" I asked. 

"I think it's heading toward good," he said, "though 
Communism, like Catholicism, is by now top-heavy." 

As a parting shot, I risked a question that had been 
itching at the back of my mind. I asked Taylor if his 
use of paradoxes in speech and in writing had any pur- 
pose behind it. 

"I am not at all paradoxical," he said, brushing aside 
all the paradoxes of our conversation, not to mention 
the innumerable paradoxical sentences in his works. 
"The reason people think I am paradoxical, if they do 
think that, is that I have a clear and sharp style. And 
I can't see that there is any harm in having a clear and 
sharp style." 

We went into the house, so that Taylor could ring 
for a taxi — his son was playing a vigorous waltz, but 
Taylor managed to make himself heard over the music 
— and then returned to the yard. As I was getting into 
the taxi, Taylor said, "After you have lived with books 
as long as I have, you start preferring them to people." 
That seemed to be a parting jab at me. Before the taxi 
pulled away, he was laughing. 

As I sat in my room, the opening of the "profile" of 
Taylor that had appeared in the Observer following the 
publication of the "Origins"— perhaps the best single 
short piece ever written on the mercurial man — came 



Argument Without End • 183 

back to me. The lines were unattributed, but they had 
the look of J. Douglas Pringle, an excellent leader writer 
and a close friend of both Namier and Taylor. "In the 
eighteenth century ," the phrases rang out, "dons were 
indolent, obscure men who drank themselves to sleep 
each night with port and claret. In the nineteenth 
century, they were austere, dedicated scholars, still 
celibate, often eccentric, whose only concession to the 
hurly-burly of life outside their college walls was an 
occasional review, vitriolic but anonymous, in the Edin- 
burgh Quarterly. In the twentieth century, they advise 
governments, sit on Royal Commissions, fight elections, 
marry — and remarry — produce plays, write detective 
stories, and entertain us on the telly. None of them has 
enjoyed this minor revolution more than A. J. P. Tay- 
lor. . . ." Yet from under the deft ink Taylor emerged, 
as always, a jack-in-the-box. I now tried to put him 
together, but, like many before me, I simply saw the 
serious historian, the Manchester radical, the tutor, the 
journalist, the bon vivant, and the lover of music — 
all of them equally real. What Taylor undoubtedly 
achieved, often with unsurpassed brilliance, he seemed 
to mar with his antics, and for me the proportion of 
mischief to intelligence in his last and most contro- 
versial book remained a puzzle. There was, for example, 
an ambiguous passage in the "Origins" in which Taylor 
both defended his case and almost willfully delivered 
himself into the hands of his critics: 

Hitler was an extraordinary man. . . . But his policy is 



184 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

capable of rational explanation; and it is on these that 
history is built. The escape into irrationality is no doubt 
easier. The blame for war can be put on Hitler's Nihilism 
instead of on the faults and failures of European statesmen 
— faults and failures which their public shared. Human 
blunders, however, usually do more to shape history than 
human wickedness. At any rate, this is a rival dogma which 
is worth developing, if only as an academic exercise [my 
italics]. 

Once, during a lecture, I had heard Taylor say, "Error 
can often be fertile, but perfection is always sterile," 
and it seemed to me, upon a second reading of the 
"Origins," that this remark, if anything, might be the 
key to Taylor's book. 

Both Taylor and Geyl, in their different ways, had 
argued that history was a debate. But if history was 
an argument or an academic exercise, could we ever 
discover what really happened? What was the truth 
about the past? How could we tell? If both Taylor 
and Geyl could be wrong, who could be right? Carr 
seemed to think that in his book "What Is History?" he 
had dealt with these and countless other historiographical 
questions. "In some respects," the reviewer in the Times 
Literary Supplement had said of the book, "it is the 
best statement of its kind ever produced by a British 
historian." The reviewer noted, "Much though Mr. Can- 
has absorbed from the Marxist conception of history, he 
does not identify himself with it and maintains a 
certain reserve towards it; and in spite of his explicit 



Argument Without End • 185 

criticisms of the British tradition, especially of its em- 
piricist strand, he is of it, even if not quite in it. Indeed, 
he picks up the threads of British philosophy of history 
where R. G. Collingwood left them about a quarter of 
a century ago. ... If he does not bring to his job 
Collingwood's philosophical sense and subtlety, he is 
greatly superior to his predecessor as both historian and 
political theorist." 

I found Carr, who is seventy, in the living room of 
his Cambridge house. The room was lined with book- 
shelves, but they bulged with manila folders, and there 
wasn't a book in the room. Carr appeared to be a his- 
torian who, like Taylor, worked out of libraries. When 
I entered, Carr was reposing on an enormous brown 
sofa. His feet were bare, and there was a pair of rope- 
soled sandals on the floor beside him, suggesting that 
sandals were his regular footwear. He stood up to 
greet me. He was a hulking man, with white hair. His 
face was rather hawklike, and tapered from a prominent 
forehead to a pointed but also prominent chin. He was 
dressed in baggy, donnish trousers, an old gray-and- 
white tweed jacket, and a well-worn necktie. Having 
drawn up a chair for me next to his sofa, he lay back as 
before, the picture of a don, who has as little use for 
appearances and possessions and the other accoutre- 
ments of living as a high priest. 

"To study the historian before his history, what in 
your background, would you say, explains your set of 
ideas?" I asked, borrowing a leaf from his book. 



i86 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

"Well, now"— his voice was as warm and comforting 
as eider down —"I grew up in a rather suburban atmos- 
phere in North London, in a closed society of forty or 
fifty relatives. I went to day school and then to Trinity, 
Cambridge, which I chose because it was the largest 
and the best college in the university." After Cam- 
bridge, he continued, he had spent twenty years with 
the Foreign Office: in Riga, where he taught himself 
Russian; in Paris, where he improved his French; and in 
London, where he learned the proper use and importance 
of diplomatic documents and wrote a book on Dostoevski 
and one on Herzen and his circle. Then he left the 
Foreign Office to write history, and to take a chair at 
the University College of Wales, in Aberystwyth. On 
the way to being appointed a research fellow at his old 
college — his present position — he'd also written leaders 
for the London Times and taught at Balliol. "When I 
was younger," he said, "I found stimulation in teaching 
young minds, but now it would simply bore me. I have 
always been rather restless and on the move. Intellectu- 
ally, like Toynbee — and perhaps Isaiah Berlin, too — I 
belonged to the pre- 19 14 liberal tradition, which had 
as its credo a belief in rational progress, a progress 
through compromise, and in History with a capital 
letter. Since 1914, all of us, in one way or another, 
have been reacting against our liberal environment — I 
have spent much of my time studying the Russian 
Revolution, which hardly represents a progress through 
compromise — but the faith in some sort of progress 



Argument Without End • 187 

still clings to me, and is really the main issue between 
Berlin and Trevor-Roper and their followers, on one 
side, and me, on the other. I see the Golden Age 
looming ahead of us; Berlin probably sees it behind us, 
in the nineteenth century; Trevor-Roper may still be 
searching for it somewhere in the past — he hasn't 
written enough to give himself away even on that." 

I asked him what he thought of his critics. 

"It's not very difficult to answer them, or their self- 
appointed spokesman, Trevor-Roper," he said. "Actu- 
ally, I feel insulted that he let me off so lightly. I 
thought I was at least as great a villain as Toynbee or 
Taylor. Why do you suppose Trevor-Roper didn't see 
me for what I really am?" 

He exuded good cheer. If he seemed invulnerable, 
it was not because he was spiky or wore battle dress or 
talked against a thunderous background of battalions 
but because he came across as a sort of Greek god — 
one who might have many human failings but never- 
theless was a god. 

"My critics, on the whole," he said, raising himself a 
little on his sofa and wiggling his toes, "simply repeat 
the old charges that have been ringing in my ears for 
many years." They had said that for Carr history was 
a power and success story, and was not objective. He 
was a complete relativist. They carped. What about 
those failed men in history? What about the great 
Western tradition of trying always to know the facts? 
What about conservative and radical historians flower- 



i88 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

ing in the same cultural milieu? "I've always said," Can 
continued, answering them now, "that nobody can write 
about the winners without writing about the losers, 
without going over, step by step, the whole conflict — 
the entire game. About those facts — for me history is 
a river, and you cannot step in the same river twice. 
By history as a river, I mean that you can never have 
a twentieth-century Mozart; you may have a genius 
comparable to Mozart, but the musical idiom and style 
today are so different from those of the eighteenth 
century that a new Mozart would have to compose in 
a radically different way. And, finally, different types 
of historians, people with different shades of opinion, 
can emerge from the same society because of personal 
factors — their home environment, school and college, 
and so on." 

I put myself in the place of his critics, and pressed 
him on a couple of points of this debate with his de- 
tractors. I said that if, according to his theory, the losers 
had a role in history that was equivalent to the role of 
the winners, why hadn't he given them more than a few 
pages in his six-volume "A History of Soviet Russia"? 

"That is the fault of my 'History,' not of my theory 
of history," he replied. ( Isaac Deutscher, a distinguished 
biographer of our times — he shared Carr's theory of 
conflict — had given space to the programs and aspira- 
tions of practically every splinter group when writing 
his book on Trotsky, "The Prophet Unarmed.") 

I took up another point. "When people complain that 



Argument Without End • 189 

your theory would lead the historian to be cavalier with 
facts, aren't they saying more than you suppose?" I 
asked. "Aren't they saying that the function of a historian 
is to reconstruct, in all its complexity, what really hap- 
pened? Aren't they saying that a historian should study 
fifth-century Athens for its own sake, rather than as 
just another link in the chain of history? You would 
have them study fifth-century Greece in relation to the 
importance it had for the fourth or third century B.C., 
or, indeed, the twentieth century A.D. Isn't there more 
value in objectivity — in trying to put ourselves, as far 
as possible, in the sandals of, say, a fifth-century Greek 
statesman and to view the landscape of problems as 
he did, considering the alternatives he had before his 
eyes when he made a particular decision?" 

"Yes," he said. "This is the heart of the attack. But 
in my view it's not possible to study a period on its 
own, in isolation from what happened before and after 
it. History is a process, and you cannot isolate a bit of 
process and study it on its own. My theory is that the 
facts of the past are simply what human minds make 
of them, and what these minds make of them depends 
on the minds' place in the movement." 

// one accepted Carr's contention that history was 
movement, a process, a river, if one accepted his "faith 
in the future of society and in the future of history," 
I thought, then his conclusions did seem more or less 
irresistible. "But isn't your faith perhaps naive, incapable 
of logical proof?" I asked. 



igo • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

"Yes, it is," he said. "But then every faith is naive. 
Faith is something you cannot prove. You just believe 
it. Actually, all those theoretical differences are really 
a smoke screen for the real difference between my critics 
and me. As I said before, basically we are just at odds 
about the position of the Golden Age." 

"I got the impression from the rejoinder in the Listener 
to your attack on Berlin — your most persuasive critic — 
that the crux of your disagreement was determinism," 
I said. 

"If it is determinism to think that men are a product 
of their society, that their actions are conditioned by 
the society, then, as opposed to Berlin, I am a determin- 
ist," Carr said. "You see, I don't think there are such 
things as bad people. To us, Hitler, at the moment, 
seems a bad man, but will they think Hitler a bad man 
in a hundred years' time or will they think the German 
society of die thirties bad?" 

"But the very fact that you aren't prepared to call 
people bad but are prepared to call things bad," I said, 
"shows that you are prejudiced against free will, that 
you have a bias in favor of putting the blame on things, 
on society, on environment." 

"Yes, that's perfectly true," he said. "I think people 
are the result of their environment. Berlin thinks that 
because I don't believe each individual can modify the 
course of history, in some bad sense of the word I am a 
determinist. But if I say that without peasants there 
wouldn't have been any revolution, am I not saying some- 



Argument Without End • 191 

thing about the individual peasant — for what are 
peasants if not a collection of individuals? I don't deny 
the individual a role, I only give society a role equal to 
that of the individual. The reason all this rings as de- 
terminism in Berlin's ears, I insist, is that he tends to 
regard history as a succession of accidents; otherwise, 
why would he begin his 'Historical Inevitability' with a 
Bernard Berenson quotation?" 

Berlin had opened his lecture with the following 
passage: "Writing some ten years ago in his place of 
refuge during the German occupation of Northern Italy, 
Mr. Bernard Berenson set down his thoughts on what 
he called the 'accidental view of History': 'It led me,' 
he declared, 'far from the doctrine lapped up in my 
youth about the inevitability of events and the Moloch 
still devouring us today, "historical inevitability." I 
believe less and less in these more than doubtful and 
certainly dangerous dogmas, which tend to make us 
accept whatever happens as irresistible and foolhardy to 
oppose.' " 

"I have read Berenson's 'The Accidental View of 
History/ " Carr continued, lying back on his sofa, "and 
I think the natural consequence of his accidental view 
is that events are causeless — you can't say, for instance, 
that the depression caused Hitler." 

That Berlin had begun "Historical Inevitability" with 
a Berenson remark was not sufficient evidence for me 
that he accepted Berenson's views on accidents. Indeed, 
in his rebuttal to Carr, Berlin had proved — to me, at 



192 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

least — that he believed events did have causes. "I 
think that in your book you misinterpret Berlin and 
Popper," I said. "When you say they don't believe in 
causes, I don't think that's quite fair. For example, 
what you call causes Popper, in his books, calls logic 
of situation,' and he and Berlin certainly believe in it. 
If they didn't believe that historians should study causes, 
they would have to believe in abolishing the study of 
history. It seems to me that the basic difference between 
you and your opponents is that you tend to take a 
much more sociological view of history; they don't see 
everything as a manifestation of an omnipotent society." 

"I can't see a possible alternative to my sociological 
view of history," he said. "It seems to me that everything 
is completely interconnected. If I did misread some of 
these people a little, you must remember that I wasn't 
writing a treatise — I was writing lectures. Also," he 
added, "I love writing polemics and love reading good 
polemics. That's why I was disappointed in Trevor- 
Roper's 'Success Story' — because it was a bad polemic." 

Carr got up from the sofa and slipped his feet into 
the rope-soled sandals. "I'll ask my wife for some tea," 
he said, and walked toward the door. 



HAPTER FOU 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds 



Metaphysically inclined thinkers, like Marx, Speng- 
ler, and Toynbee (plum-cake historians), have 
had a large, all-embracing explanation of history — why 
things happen as they do — which they demonstrate 
with a nod now and again to examples. The professional 
academics (dry-biscuit historians), like R. H. Tawney 
and Sir Lewis Namier, respectively, detect causal con- 
nections between religion and capitalism, or between 
Parliament and the self-interest of the M.P.s, or, like 
Taylor, notice a discrepancy between an intention and 
an action, and then arrive at small theories — why 
particular things happen at a particular time — which 
they substantiate with analysis, illustrate with ex- 
haustive examples, or prove, however obliquely or in- 
directly, by a sustained narrative of events. Miss C. V. 
Wedgwood belongs to neither of these schools. She is 
a shortbread historian. She tells stories simply and en- 
tertainingly, in the manner of Somerset Maugham (that 

* 193 



194 * Fty an d the Fly-Bottle 

is, without the deep psychological perceptions of Proust, 
the sensitive nerve ends of James, or the linguistic virtu- 
osity of Joyce; the historian counterparts of these literary 
figures almost always come out of one or the other of 
the two schools), or as the Victorian Carlyle or Ed- 
wardian G. M. Trevelyan did — straight, and with an 
unerring eye for the dramatic. Like Carlyle and Tre- 
velyan, Miss Wedgwood seldom, if ever, fishes in the 
treacherous waters of philosophy or psychology. Because 
she has no theories to prove, her histories generously 
give the available facts a hearing, without rigorously 
applying the aristocratic principles of exclusion and 
selection, and if her democratic approach toward facts 
crowds her narrative as densely as the mainland of 
China, the terrain of her history, unlike the mainland 
of China, is seldom overrun by a mob; her felicity of 
style and mastery of the language for the most part 
keep the mob at bay, and carry the brimming narrative 
forward like a mountain stream. Miss Wedgwood, how- 
ever, has felt the need to justify her nineteenth-century 
approach to history by once in a while delivering a 
theoretical pronouncement. She wrote, in a book of 
essays called "Truth and Opinion": 

My writing experience has led me to set a very high 
value on investigating what men did and how things hap- 
pened. Pieces like "The Last Masque" and "Captain Hind 
the Highwayman" [the first about Charles I, the second 
about one of his supporters] were written partly to provide 
entertainment; they are small literary diversions. But they 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 195 

were also written because limited and relatively simple sub- 
jects like these, where passion and prejudices play little part, 
give the historian an opportunity for the purest kind of en- 
quiry. The apparent objectives may seem light and even 
frivolous, but the experiment in reconstructing as accurately 
and fully as possible a detached incident or a character 
without attempting to prove any general point or demon- 
strate any theory whatsoever is a useful exercise. I have 
found by experience that in the course of such neutral en- 
quiries unexpected clues are found to far more important 
matters. "The Last Masque" gave me numerous indications 
for lines of enquiry into the Court and administration of 
Charles I and "Captain Hind" has left me with a handful 
of hints, ideas, and sources for the social consequences of 
the Civil War. The older historians concentrated more on 
narrative than on analysis, on the How rather than the Why 
of history. But now, for several generations, Why has been 
regarded as a more important question than How. It is, of 
course, a more important question. But it cannot be answered 
until How is established. The careful, thorough, and accu- 
rate answer to the question How should take the historian 
a long way towards answering the question Why; but for 
this purpose narrative history must be written with depth 
and reflection. 

Miss Wedgwood's detractors in both the plum-cake 
and the dry-biscuit schools might retort — indeed, they 
often do — that narrative history is the least neglected 
aspect of history; that the How is much more easily 
apprehended than the Why; that the How does not 
advance knowledge, does not develop new variations 
on old explanations, does not introduce new ways of 
thinking about old facts; and that the life of a How 



ig6 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

history is scarcely as long as that of a fashion in ladies' 
hats, since no sooner has a researcher turned up a hand- 
ful of new facts than the narrative is dated and a new 
one has to be constructed. But Miss Wedgwood's de- 
tractors realize that she is aware of all this, and they 
also realize that their objections and her defense are 
beside the point, for her natural gifts are unanalytical 
and literary, and she can no more resist writing narrative 
history than they can help writing metaphysical or 
academic history. Ever since I had first read her books 
some years before, I'd wanted to meet her, perhaps as 
much as anything because of her fine prose and her 
uncontainable interest in history. "By the time I was 
twelve," she had written in one of her essays collected 
in "Velvet Studies," published some fifteen years ago, 
"my writing had grown dangerously swift. There was 
a special kind of writing pad called 'The Mammoth,' 
two hundred pages, quarto, ruled faint; under my now 
practiced pen Mammoths disappeared in a twinkling. 
'You should write history,' my father said, hoping to 
put on a brake. 'Even a bad writer may be a useful 
historian.' It was damping, but it was sense. It was, 
after all, unlikely that I would ever be Shakespeare." 
To learn more about Miss Wedgwood and her How 
history, I now invited her to lunch with me in London 
— at Plato's, a quiet Greek restaurant whose glass front 
looks out on Wigmore Street. I waited for her at a 
small table near the glass wall. She arrived a little late, 
and grasped my hand warmly. Without any further 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 197 

formalities, she seated herself across from me and 
started talking ebulliently, as though we had known 
each other for years. 

"I am sorry not to be prompt, but right across the 
street I discovered a Wedgwood china shop," she said. 
"For the family's sake, I had to look in the window — 
the Wedgwoods have been in the china business ever 
since the eighteenth century — although, being a seven- 
teenth-century historian, I don't know much about the 
history of Wedgwood china." Miss Wedgwood, who is 
fifty-two, gray-haired, and brown-eyed, was conserva- 
tively and tastefully dressed in an English-cut suit. She 
spoke in an effervescent voice. "My interest in history 
is a very long one," she continued. "My father, not 
being the eldest son — here I go off on a tangent, my 
Achilles' heel — instead of going into the family china 
business, went into railways, so when I was a girl we 
did a lot of hard and bouncy travelling in Europe. In 
railways, as in the china business, there is a sort of 
freemasonry of the trade, and we had as many free 
passages as we wanted." 

Miss Wedgwood paused for the first time, and I asked 
her if she would like a drink. She ordered a dry ver- 
mouth on ice, and went on talking. "When I was a girl 
— here I go off on a tangent again — I went to a day 
school in Kensington, from which everybody moved on 
to a proper, high-powered school, like St. Paul's Girls' 
School, but I liked it so much there that I stayed on. 
So few of us stayed back that we were given what 



ig8 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

amounted to private tuition. When I was fifteen, I 
finished, and thereupon immediately rushed off to Ger- 
many to live with a family and learn German. I rushed 
back to England to take the Scholarship examination for 
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and rushed off again, this 
time to a family in France, to learn French." She stirred 
her vermouth. 

"Would you like to order?" I asked. 

"Oh, I almost forgot," she said. She studied the 
menu and ordered egg-and-lemon soup, moussaka, and 
a glass of red wine, and went on talking. "When I 
came down from Oxford," she said, "I decided I'd do 
a thesis with Tawney on some forbidding seventeenth- 
century subject. Had I gone on with it, I would have 
become a Why historian, but I didn't. I discovered that 
in Why history research is much more important than 
writing, and I wanted to do both. I really decided to 
become a How historian when, a little later, my father 
arranged for me to go and spend a weekend at the house 
of Trevelyan, who was then fifty-five; my father, Tre- 
velyan, G. E. Moore, and Ralph Vaughan Williams had 
all been at Cambridge together and knew each other 
very well. Trevelyan was a great How historian, and he 
encouraged me to write a biography of the Earl of 
Strafford, which I did, instead of doing my thesis with 
Tawney. The biography was very feminine and senti- 
mental. Sir John Neale, who writes two kinds of history 
— the literary and the analytic — with equal success, 
helped me to revise it and place it with a publisher. Ever 



The Flight of Crook-T atoned Birds • 199 

since then, I have been writing How history contin- 
uously. I am not embarrassed to say that I write about 
the surface things — men in action, how the decisions 
were taken on the spot. I don't have much patience 
with secondary sources, which stud the Why historians' 
pages in the form of bulky footnotes." 
I recalled that she had once written: 

Whether it is that I have never quite outgrown the first 
excitement of that discovery [reading Pepys, Clarendon, and 
Verney when she was just a girl], I find in myself to this 
day an unwillingness to read the secondary authorities 
which I have difficulty in overcoming. Indeed it is rather 
the fear of some learned reviewer's "the author appears to 
be ignorant of the important conclusions drawn by Dr. 
Stumpfnadel" than a desire to know those conclusions for 
their own sake which, at the latter end of my own researches, 
drives me to consult the later authorities. 

Miss Wedgwood was by now in the middle of her 
egg-and-lemon soup. "The Why historians," she said, 
"start with the assumption that there are deep-seated 
motives and reasons for most decisions, and they con- 
centrate on that rather than on the action. Sometimes, 
happily for me, the historical characters surprise their 
Why historians by, say, not voting in a Parliament in 
accordance with their party and economic interests, as 
they should have voted. But this sort of thing doesn't 
seem to have daunted the Why historians very much, 
for the general preoccupation in this country and cen- 
tury remains Why history; in our universities the How 
history has mostly gone by the board." Countless his- 



2oo • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

torians had investigated the causes of the English Civil 
War, she went on, but they had been so mesmerized by 
the Why of the Civil War that, reading them, one 
would never know that England in that time had a 
day-to-day foreign policy. Indeed, in Miss Wedgwood's 
opinion, they themselves often forgot it, and were misled 
in their analyses. They enriched history by delving 
into its undercurrents, but they impoverished it by not 
gathering all its froth into their pages. "I know that 
many good historians are intolerant of my way of doing 
history," Miss Wedgwood said, putting her soupspoon 
down. "They say it's popular and short-lived. In a 
sense, I agree with them. Does that surprise you?" 

"No," I said. (I had read in her "Velvet Studies": "At 
twelve I had no theory of history. Since then I have 
had many, even for some years the theory that in the 
interests of scholarship it is wrong to write history com- 
prehensible to the ordinary reader, since all history so 
written must necessarily be modified and therefore in- 
correct. This was I think always too much against my 
nature to have held me long.") 

"Women are very sensitive and self-conscious about 
what is said about them," she went on. "I think the man- 
sion of history has enough rooms to accommodate all of 
us. I mean many sorts of history can be illuminating — 
and by 'illuminating' I mean you can show things by the 
way you relate them. When I was young, I was Left 
Wing and intolerant, prepared to damn many books 
and many ways of doing things. Now that I am a little 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 201 

older, I can tolerate many points of view and many 
types of books." 

Over her moussaka, Miss Wedgwood told me that 
she had lived in London ever since she came down from 
Oxford, and had made ends meet by writing successful 
history books, by reviewing, by "being on every prize 
committee," and by doing a lot of work for the B.B.C. 

I asked her if she had ever felt the lack of a univer- 
sity connection and a secure income. 

"I haven't, because I really can't teach," she said. 
"Once, I did teach for a bit, and found that most of the 
pupils I thought were brilliant failed their examinations." 
She laughed. 

The waiter brought her a cup of coffee, and also a 
Turkish delight, which she unwrapped slowly and care- 
fully, as though she were peeling an orange. "By tem- 
perament, I am an optimist," she said. "But I am very 
gloomy about the uses and lessons of history. The whole 
study at times seems to me useless and futile. I give 
lectures now and again about the uses of history, but 
I always come home with a sinking feeling of whistling 
in the dark." 

If history were simply a series of rough guesses, more 
art than science, as narrative historians from Thomas 
Babington Macaulay to Trevelyan, Miss Wedgwood's 
mentor, have thought, Miss Wedgwood would have even 
more claim to our attention than she now has. But ours 
is an age of analysis, of science, and at least for the 



202 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

moment fireside historians are flickering under the cold 
gust of the "why"s. Many historians may disagree with 
Miss Wedgwood that history is whistling in the dark, 
but few have the resources to light up the shadowy 
mansion of history. Two of them in our time who 
appear to have had batteries and torches strong enough 
for the illumination are R. H. Tawney, 1880-1962, and 
Sir Lewis Namier, 18S8-1960 — both Why historians. 
To learn something about Tawney and Namier and 
their Why histories, I thought it would be pleasant as 
well as useful to take up residence at Balliol, the old 
college of both of them, and perhaps talk history 
with my tutors, with whom I had studied the subject 
(the nontheoretical variety) for three years. But 
when I went up to Oxford, I found that Balliol, which 
had survived for six hundred and ninety-nine years 
(preparations were then under way to celebrate the 
seven-hundredth anniversary), had altered beyond my 
expectations, even though, as these things went, I was 
a recent graduate. Walking through the quadrangles, I 
sensed that a great gulf divided me from the people 
around me. In the few years since I had gone down, a 
new body of undergraduates had entered the shell of 
the college. In the desert of new Balliol faces, however, 
there was one familiar landmark, the tall figure of my 
close friend Jasper Griffin. He and I had come up to 
the college in the same year, and had found ourselves 
living next door to each other; indeed, in the affluent 
days of the college, our two rooms had formed a suite, 
and among its occupants had been Gerard Manley 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 203 

Hopkins. It was discovering that Hopkins was a favorite 
of both of us that had drawn us together and begun 
our long friendship. As it happened, when the college 
elected him to a Junior Fellowship in Classics, he was 
given my old room as his office. Since he now lived 
out of college and worked mostly in the libraries, he 
let me have my old room back for the duration of my 
stay at Oxford. The room was intact, but again, like 
the student body, the staff of Balliol historians had 
changed. A. B. Rodger, who had brought me to love 
the manicured English countryside of the eighteenth 
century, had died. R. W. Southern, one of the greatest 
riving English medievalists, who had led me to the 
springs of Anglo-Saxon and medieval history very much 
like a soldier leading a recalcitrant horse to water, had 
since been raised to a chair connected with another 
college. Even my external tutor, James Joll — he had 
conducted me through the tortuous European politics 
terminating in the First and Second World Wars — was 
at Harvard for a few months. Of the tutors who had 
tended me term after term, Christopher Hill, an authority 
on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century history, was one 
of the two or three still at the college. Like Southern, 
he was in high feather; he was holding the post of Ford's 
Lecturer, a distinguished university appointment, for the 
year. In several quarters he was regarded as the spiritual 
heir of Tawney, who in some ways had personified the 
traditions of Balliol, which to its adulators is "the best 
teaching college in the world" (the Oxford tutorial 
system is thought to have originated there) and to its 



204 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

detractors is a mere "teaching shop." Like Tawney, Hill 
had spent much of his life studying and teaching the 
history of the Puritans and of the birth of revolutionary 
ideas and ideals in seventeenth-century England. It was 
no surprise to me, therefore, that when I saw Hill, who 
is fifty — his three hallmarks are a legendary shyness, 
pithy sentences, and high, bouncy black hair — in his 
college room we conversed about Balliol, about teach- 
ing, about the English historical scene, and about 
Tawney. 

As Hill talked, I couldn't help feeling that some of 
his observations on Tawney were applicable to him- 
self. At one point, he said, "Tawney thought, and I 
agree, that anyone can write narrative histories, but 
that it is the analytic histories that advance knowledge. 
Of course, both Namier and Tawney were analytical 
historians, but they had very different spiritual fathers; 
it is impossible to conceive of Namier without Freud or 
of Tawney without Marx — Marx because the main fea- 
ture of Tawney 's work is a never-failing concern for the 
underdog in history. Namier's contribution was to go 
below the surface of public records to private papers 
and diaries, and Tawney 's great contribution was asking 
the right questions. Surely part of good history is to 
ask the right questions. By right questions, I mean those 
that produce fruitful answers. Indeed, once he is 
supposed to have said, 'What historians need is not 
more documents but stronger boots.' Whereas Namier 
only recorded facts and left you to draw your own 



The Flight of Crook-T atoned Birds • 205 

conclusions, Tawney put forward tremendously inter- 
esting hypotheses, which were not considered in the 
old, established histories, though these were often more 
accurate and learned than Tawney 's. You remember 
going through with me those dozens of volumes on the 
Puritan Revolution by S. R. Gardiner and C. H. Firth? 
Well, those incomparably learned Victorians took it for 
granted, until Tawney, that the seventeenth-century 
English Parliament represented the people. Nor did 
they distinguish between different social classes; they 
wrote as though the Puritan Revolution were a struggle 
for liberty by all the people and all the classes. No 
historian thinks of the Puritan Revolution in those terms 
now, and it's all due to Tawney and his questions. In 
some ways, of course, Tawney was traditional and Vic- 
torian. For him, as for his Victorian counterparts, 
knowledge and virtue were one. Indeed, he used his 
researches to carry through reforms in society. Unlike 
the Victorians, however, he studied social and economic 
history. He directed the gaze of historians away from 
the narrow stage of politics and action to the in- 
finitely wider one of society and life, opening up vast 
territories of interest and evidence for them to tend and 
reap. But perhaps his greatest achievement was dis- 
covering and developing the connections, in England, 
between religion and the rise of capitalism. One thing 
that made Tawney great in my eyes was his politics. 
He was a deeply committed Christian Socialist. His 
Christianity was very much akin to Sandy Lindsay's 



2o6 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

[former master of Balliol, A. D. Lindsay] and to Oliver 
Cromwell's —Trust in God and keep your powder dry.' 
Heavenly intervention went hand in hand with human 
action. Tawney's Socialism wasn't the state variety — 
state ownership of industries, and so on — but a very 
individual sort of Socialism. Here again he was kin to 
Sandy Lindsay. Where he got his Christian Socialism I 
don't know — probably not at Rugby, his public school. 
Perhaps at Balliol. The Balliol of the early nineteen- 
hundreds, his time, was far more Left Wing and radical 
than that of the nineteen-sixties. Another thing that 
perhaps made him great was his lifelong work for the 
Workers' Educational Association, or W.E.A. He gave 
up a Balliol fellowship to continue in adult education, 
and accepted his professorship at the London School of 
Economics quite late in life. Still another thing that 
made him great was his combination of shrewdness 
and gentleness. He was a very shrewd man — he could 
see through people — but he never took issue with any- 
one on personal matters, always on principles." 

After talking to Hill, I spent a little time in our 
college library, reading books and articles both by and 
about Tawney, whose name is a byword for the Tudor 
period. Going through the Tawney shelf made me 
remember my first essay, which had been written with 
the aid of Tawney's books, some of them forty years 
old. My assignment was "What, If Anything, Can Be 
Salvaged, About the Gentry and the Causes of the 
English Civil War, from the 'Gentry Controversy'?" It 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 207 

called for reading and evaluating one of Tawney's most 
famous theses. Tawney maintained that the moneyed 
classes, or the gentry, of the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries had risen on "the crushed bodies of the 
peasants" and on the debts owed them by the wasteful 
and dissipated hereditary class, causing the Civil War. 
By the use of better agricultural techniques and eco- 
nomic ruthlessness, the gentry had acquired land ( it was 
the symbol of status) and money, but they had not 
acquired power, which, instead of accompanying the 
gentry's acquisition of land, had remained in the grasp 
of the Crown and the nobility, opening a political 
chasm. As soon as the gentry discovered that war was 
a cheaper means than litigation of wresting land and 
power from the wellborn bankrupt, they struck, setting 
England adrift in the waters of revolution. Trevor- 
Roper, in a thunderous charge, had long since cut 
through this view, yet in Tawney's history there re- 
mained such a store of research and wisdom that every 
new start on the causes of the Civil War began with 
him. Perhaps the reason was that while, with each 
wave of new evidence, the narrative historians were 
superseded (since the great excavations of the nine- 
teenth and twentieth centuries, even the narrative hunks 
in the third volume of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" 
retained only a literary interest), the analytic, the inter- 
pretive historians had a touch of immortality about them. 
(About evidence, the stuff of How history, Tawney had 
once written, "The first feeling of a person who sees a 



208 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

manuscript collection such as that at Holkham must 
be 'If fifty maids with fifty mops — ,' and a sad con- 
sciousness that the mop which he wields is a very 
feeble one.") Even though his examples were dated, 
many of his statistics revised, and (sometimes under the 
impetus of his own ideas and researches) his theses 
jettisoned, we undergraduates yet turned to his histories 
for their functional value as works of understanding. 

During his long career, which spanned more than fifty 
years, he wrote two kinds of works — historical and 
Socialist. His histories, such as "The Agrarian Problem 
in the Sixteenth Century" (marked by social morality: 
faith in the potentiality of ordinary men and distrust of 
the arrogance of the rich and the powerful — equalled 
only by his distaste for the specialist), created a minor 
revolution, making possible a new kind of history, with 
new actors. In his histories, he presented, in powerful 
Elizabethan prose, the state of Tudor society, letting 
the yeoman, the peasant, the displaced farmer speak — 
in many cases for the first time; in his Socialist books, 
such as "The Acquisitive Society" and "Equality," he 
drew aside the veil of hypocrisy, exposing the discrepancy 
between the Christian ethic and the actual condition of 
modern society. The late Hugh Gaitskell said of these 
works, "[They] made a tremendous impact upon my 
generation. ... If you ask me why we were so im- 
pressed, I think it was really . . . that these books 
combined passion and learning. There was nothing 
false or exaggerated in them. . . . He was not invent- 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 209 

ing things but simply showing them to us — things 
we had failed to appreciate before but which we rec- 
ognized immediately he wrote about them." As a 
political thinker, Tawney became the social conscience 
of his age. Indeed, Sidney and Beatrice Webb thought 
that he was destined to be a Labour Prime Minister of 
England — an ambition that many nursed for him but 
that was made impossible by poor health resulting from 
wounds he received in the First World War. (He him- 
self didn't set much store by honors; when Sidney Webb 
and he were offered peerages by the Ramsay MacDonald 
government, Webb accepted and he declined.) With 
the improvement in the condition of the working classes 
and the beginning of the welfare era in England, his 
Socialist books lost much of their bite, yet his vision of 
a healthy, cooperative society, of politics not of power 
but of principle, continues to inspire socially concerned 
undergraduates. Nor are the dons left untouched by his 
example, for he succeeded in being a scholar who 
practiced his learning, whose domain was not limited 
to the tutorial professorial chair but stretched on to 
include the republic of laborers and politicians. 

I had met Tawney only once, over after-dinner coffee 
at Oxford. As a person, he reminded one of Socrates at 
his most ironical. (His humility was overpowering and 
exasperating; when an undergraduate asked him a ques- 
tion about enclosures, a subject on which he was an 
authority, he said, "No, no, I'm sure you know the field 
better than I do") And, like Socrates, he would either 



2io • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

be absolutely silent or deliver an endless monologue. 
Indeed, he gave the impression of being a Platonic Idea 
of the absent-minded scholar; he would put his glasses 
on his forehead and then be unable to find them, his 
brown tweed suit always looked as if it had been slept 
in, and his untidiness was so thoroughgoing that one 
expected matches to explode when he reached for them 
to light his pipe. But whether or not he had fire in his 
pockets, there was nothing about him to suggest the 
revolutionary which he actually was. 

Tawney, the recent graduate of Oxford setting out on 
his revolutionary, almost evangelical mission of educa- 
tion, is glimpsed in a commemorative portrait that H. P. 
Smith, the tutorial secretary for the Delegacy for Extra- 
Mural Studies, Oxford, wrote for the Delegacy's journal. 
It tells how Tawney threw himself into the development 
of the Oxford Tutorial Classes Committee, an extra- 
mural body for adult education, whose work — which 
still continues —has influenced the course that English 
society has taken. He brought the fruits of learning to 
people at large first by talking and teaching at working- 
men's clubs in East London, and in the textile country 
of the north, where he also organized classes for the 
Lancashire workers. One of his old students, looking 
back, remembered a number of scenes: 

First [Smith quoted], in the classroom at the Sutherland 
Institute: a heated discussion on surplus value is taking 
place. A pertinacious Marxian, arguing with the tutor, chal- 
lenges point after point of his exposition, until at length, 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 211 

baffled but not defeated, the student retires from the tussle, 
saying to the tutor: "It's no use; when I point my gun at 
you, you hop from twig to twig like a little bird" — and 
laughter comes to ease the strain. A more sociable scene in 
the same room: the class meeting is over, and we sit at 
ease, taking tea and biscuits provided by members' wives. 
Talk ranges free and wide — problems of philosophy, evolu- 
tion, politics, literature. Then R. H. T. reads to us Walt 
Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd;" 
this moves a student to give us his favourite passage from 
the same source: "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" Another follows, 
quoting from a poem of Matthew Arnold that evidently has 
bitten him, one ending with the magic line, "the unplumb'd, 
salt, estranging sea." And for some of us as we sit listening, 
a new door opens. 

Tawney's students soon became the center of a lively 
educational movement. They started giving talks and 
classes of their own, modelled on their master's. Under 
Tawney's direction, the North Staffordshire Miners' 
Higher Education Movement was launched, and the 
miners were now enrolled in the movement of voluntary 
learning and teaching. The scheme, a crusade, cul- 
minated a few decades later in the foundation of the 
University of Keele, in Staffordshire, which is still only 
one of eighteen institutions of higher learning in all Eng- 
land. Tawney's genius for teaching (copies of his 
pupils' essays bearing his corrections still serve as ex- 
amples to young tutors), his relationship with his stu- 
dents (while impatient of sham, he was pastoral in his 
treatment of his classes), his ability to impart something 
more than knowledge ("He made manifest a new power 



212 • Fly and the Fly -Bottle 

in those he taught: the power to shape their own educa- 
tional activities as adult men and women with their own 
interests and responsibilities"), his involvement in the 
social ideals that the classes represented, all helped to 
make his work a success, to extend the narrow horizons of 
English aristocratic learning, and to hold out a promise 
of mass education for a day when there might be greater 
and greater participation of the people in the government. 

The Tawney of the early days [Smith concluded] has 
become a legend among working-class students in this 
country. He joined the ranks at the outbreak of hostilities 
in 1914 and stayed there: it was his way of practicing the 
equality that he talked. . . . Severely wounded on the 
Somme, Tawney was brought to hospital in Oxford. There 
at the Examination Schools he used to lie with piles of 
books around him, and hot ash dropping from his pipe to 
his bed. The nurses were scared at his burnt sheets. Another 
well-authenticated story, this time of the W.E.A. Summer 
School, is that one of his students . . . decided to honour 
the occasion of an Oxford college opening its doors to the 
working classes by coming to Balliol in top-hat and frock- 
coat. After all, it was his Sunday best, and as an S.D.F.-er 
[a member of the Social Democratic Federation] he knew 
that . . . such a garb was indispensable to his preaching 
of Marx. And so the midnight club was in full swing, the 
argument was fascinating all participants, the air was thick 
with smoke, and nobody noticed, until it was too late, that 
Tawney was emptying his pipe into the silk top-hat on the 
table beside him. . . . 

He set out his thoughts [in an article] on the work in 
which he was engaged. It is the clearest statement I know 
of what he stood for in his early days as a tutorial class 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 213 

tutor: "One may suggest that when the wheels have ceased 
rumbling and the dust has settled down, when the first 
generation of historians has exhausted the memoirs and the 
second has refuted the memoirs by the documents, and the 
time has come for the remorseless eye of imagination to be 
turned on the first two turbulent decades of the twentieth 
century, it is perhaps less in the world of political and 
economic effort than in the revival among large masses of 
men of an Idea that their dominant motif will be found. . . . 
The minds of an ever-growing number of men and women 
are passing through one of these mysterious bursts of activity 
which make some years as decisive as generations, and of 
which measurable changes in the world of fact are the con- 
sequence rather than the cause. May that wonderful spring 
not be premature! It is as though a man labouring with a 
pick in a dark tunnel had caught a gleam of light and had 
redoubled his efforts to break down the last screen. The 
attack on the mere misery of poverty is falling into its place 
as one part of a determination that there shall be a radical 
reconstruction of human relationships. ... It is surely a 
very barren kind of pedantry which would treat education 
as though it were a closed compartment within which princi- 
ples are developed and experiments tried undisturbed by the 
changing social currents of the world around. The truth is 
that educational problems cannot be considered in isolation 
from the aspirations of the great bodies of men and women 
for whose sake alone it is that educational problems are 
worth considering at all. . . . The majority of men — one 
may hope an increasing majority — must live by working. 
Their work must be of different kinds, and to do different 
kinds of work they need specialized kinds of professional 
preparation. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, plumbers, and 
masons must, in fact, have trade schools of different 
kinds. ... If persons whose work is different require, as 



214 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

they do, different kinds of professional instruction, that is 
no reason why one should be excluded from the common 
heritage of civilization of which the other is made free by 
a university education, and from which, ceteris paribus, both, 
irrespective of their occupations, are equally capable, as 
human beings, of deriving spiritual sustenance. Those who 
have seen the inside both of lawyers' chambers and of coal 
mines will not suppose that of the inhabitants of these 
places of gloom the former are more constantly inspired by 
the humanities than are the latter. . . ." 

If Tawney the historian, by questions and hypotheses, 
made old facts give new answers, Namier (a little like 
Austin) invented a new method to abolish debate and 
get all the answers once and for all. For the first, the 
"why" was only a searchlight, for the second a flood- 
light. Time and again during my encounters with his- 
torians, I had come across remarks such as "Namier, 
perhaps, has found the ultimate way of doing history," 
"Namier believed that just as you can't send up a 
satellite into space without twentieth-century mathe- 
matics, so you can't write history with outmoded nine- 
teenth-century psychology; as soon as this truth is 
grasped, all the histories written thus far will become 
dated," and "If Namier had his way, history would 
become a perfect science and a perfect art. All contro- 
versies would cease, and we would know as much 
historical truth as is humanly possible, without being 
constantly worn down with doubt and uncertainty." In 
the minds of the professional academics, he seemed to 
occupy the position of God, and if they criticized him, 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 215 

it was often more in the spirit of theologians than in 
the spirit of atheists. Everywhere one turned, whether 
to literary, diplomatic, philosophical, or psychological 
historians, whether to Marxist or Conservative, Namier's 
name was magic. It was alarming and unsettling. To 
Carr, Namier was "the greatest British historian to 
emerge on the academic scene since the First World 
War;" to Berlin, "an historian who psychoanalyzed the 
past;" to Miss Wedgwood, "perhaps the best historical 
writer in our time." Toynbee, who had told me that he 
had almost nothing in common with Namier, had never- 
theless said of him, "I worshipped him. He was a big 
man with a big mind." 

Namier has been called a Marx of history, a Freud 
of history, a Darwin of history. These, like all epithets, 
are false, and yet contain a grain of truth. Namier 
attributed the causes of men's actions, like Marx, to 
something besides their professed motives; like Freud, 
to subterranean springs; and, like Darwin, to something 
beyond the mind and its ideas. His spiritual fathers were 
very imposing, yet when Namier was not writing Euro- 
pean or diplomatic history he concentrated his great 
gifts and genius on studying — or recruiting other great 
historians to study with him — a period of English 
Parliament, in exhaustive detail; the last ten years of his 
life were spent in doing research and writing, with the 
help of a staff of four, three volumes in the series the 
"History of Parliament," a sort of Who's Who of Mem- 
bers of Parliament who sat in the House of Commons 
from the Middle Ages to the present century. Namier's 



2i6 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

own Who's Who was to contain a study of nineteen 
hundred and sixty-four Members in the Parliaments 
between 1754 aQ d 1790. 

Namier's pupil, Taylor, in composing a touching and 
evaluative epitaph for the Observer, succeeded in both 
justifying and criticizing Namier's narrow preoccupa- 
tions. He tipped his hat to the master's "unique place" 
in the world of history, and acknowledged that whatever 
subject Namier touched his genius transfigured. The 
nineteenth-century Whig historians had seen democratic 
Britain as emerging out of the conflict between liberty 
and despotism. According to them, during the reigns of 
George I and II liberty had made such inroads on despot- 
ism that early Hanoverian politics were polarized 
between Whigs and Tories, the two kings serving as 
idle, if handsome, figureheads. George III, however, 
at the prompting of one of his malign ministers, Lord 
Bute, was supposed to have reverted to the personal 
monarchy, costing England the American colonies. 
Taylor noted that Namier went behind this orthodoxy. 
He examined the contemporary correspondence, he ex- 
posed the assumptions on which the backbenchers and 
their leaders acted, and he succeeded in showing that 
these men were not working for the victory of any 
principle, or party in the modern sense of the word, but 
were seeking promotion and influence — ambitions to be 
achieved, as at any time before, by serving the king, still 
the source of power in public affairs. Even more im- 
portant than this new interpretation was Namier's 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 217 

method for arriving at it, a method since become famous 
as "Namierization." Instead of forcing the ideals and 
opinions of the present onto other times, Namier, by 
relentlessly substituting accurate details for those vague 
generalizations that interlined the pages of earlier his- 
tories, tried to conduct a gigantic opinion poll of his 
period. Namierization had since been applied by other 
scholars to other periods from the fifteenth century to 
the twentieth century. In Taylor's own words: 

Where writers had once dealt vaguely with changes in 
public opinion or national sentiment, Namier went to the 
grass-roots of politics. He asked such questions as: What 
determined the conduct of the individual Member of Parlia- 
ment? How was representation settled, or changed, in the 
individual constituencies? Why did men go into politics? 
What did they get out of it? . . . 

Namier did not confine himself to the eighteenth cen- 
tury. . . . [He] knew in his blood the complexities of 
European nationalism and class-conflict; and he interpreted 
these complexities to English audiences with dazzling 
clarity. . . . 

But Taylor qualified his praise: 

Though his collected works make up a formal array on 
the shelves, none of them is the finished masterpiece which 
he hoped to write. ... It was a strange thing about this 
great man that, while he could use both the microscope and 
the telescope to equal effect, he never managed the middle 
range of common day. He was tremendous when he dis- 
sected each detail of some seemingly trivial transaction; 
and just as powerful when he brought the whole sweep 



2i8 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

of a century or a continent into a single lecture. But he 
could not provide sustained narrative. His work lacked 
movement, which many find the stuff of history. It was 
ponderous and immobile, like the man himself. . . . 

All his books are really related essays on a theme; and 
they all tend to peter out after the first great impulse. . . . 
With Namier, it was always all or nothing. Either he was 
trying to absorb every detail of his subject; or he would 
throw it away. An excess of patience at one moment; and 
of impatience afterwards. 

I was his colleague at Manchester for eight years; and 
for twenty-six years his close friend. I loved and admired 
him as a man as well as an historian. We had our differ- 
ences. I thought that he had an excessive contempt for 
ideas and principles in history; a contempt all the stranger 
when one considers how much he sacrificed in his own life 
from devotion to the idea of Zionism. 

He was an inspired lecturer; and a master of English 
prose-style. He loved England, particularly the traditional 
England of the governing classes. Most of all he loved the 
University of Oxford. 

I decided to look up Namier's star pupil, John Brooke 
— said to be the best source of information on Namier's 
work and the aims of his history — who had inherited 
the Who's Who duties of his teacher. I made an appoint- 
ment to see him one afternoon in London at the annex 
of the Institute of Historical Research library, a rather 
Victorian house where Brooke and the "History of Par- 
liament" had their offices. I arrived a little early, and 
chatted for a while with a young lady of the Institute. 
She told me that in 1951 the British Treasury, at Namier's 
urging, had provided a grant of seventeen thousand 



The Flight of Crook-T atoned Birds • 219 

pounds a year for twenty years in order to make pos- 
sible the writing of the "History of Parliament," which 
had been apportioned among many historians, some of 
the country's most distinguished scholars being engaged 
for the work; originally it was hoped that the whole 
project would be completed within the twenty years. 
The work had proceeded at a turtle's pace, however. 
Namier's period alone had taken the great historian and 
his staff twice as long as had been planned; often it took 
many weeks to track down the bare essentials — an M.P.'s 
parents, the place of his birth, his education, and the 
date and place and circumstances of his death. Presently, 
the young lady showed me to a small room at the top 
of a flight of stairs, and said as she left me, "Mr. Brooke 
is a very eccentric man. When it gets cold, he wears an 
electric waistcoat plugged into the light socket, and reads 
aloud to himself." 

The room was brimming with books and papers. Peer- 
ing over a deskful of big boxes of papers and index cards 
was a short, slight man with a white, pinched face, who 
was holding in the corner of his mouth, rather nervously, 
an unlit cigarette in a cigarette holder. He was youth- 
fully dressed in sweater and slacks, but it was impossible 
to guess at his age. He was Brooke. Drawing up a chair 
next to Brooke, I asked him to tell me a little bit about 
Namier's ideas. 

"Sir Lewis had no use for theories of history, you 
know," Brooke said, switching his unlit cigarette to the 
other corner of his mouth. "He has written only one essay, 



220 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

'History/ on the subject; it's collected in 'Avenues of His- 
tory.' He said once that a great historian is he after 
whom no one can write history without taking him into 
account. A historian, to be counted great, must change 
the whole way of scholarship. Because Sir Lewis basi- 
cally doesn't believe that a historian can ever know the 
truth — in our time, you know, this sort of humility is 
nonexistent — his influence at the moment is limited. But 
fifty years from now all history will be done as Sir Lewis 
does it." Brooke had a high-pitched voice, and as he 
talked on I became aware that in speaking of Namier 
he rather eerily switched from the past tense to the 
present, as though Namier were still alive. "Sir Lewis 
doesn't believe, you know, that, like sunshine and rain, 
ideas exist independently of men," Brooke said. "Rather, 
he believes that behind every idea there is a man, and 
he is history, the idea a mere rationalization; a revolu- 
tionary, you know, may think that he is a revolutionary 
by conviction, but if, as a historian, you delve into his 
background — his place of birth, his childhood, the sort 
of people he was reared with — you may find out that 
he was really rebelling against his father when he later 
thought he was rebelling against society. Like Marx, 
Sir Lewis believes that the way men earn their living, 
provide themselves with food and shelter, has a lot to 
do with the way they think and act. He does, however, 
think that the historian should try to get as close to the 
truth as possible, though if he thinks he knows the truth 
about the past, he is either humbugging himself or hum- 
bugging someone else. For the men, the real stuff of 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 221 

history, are elusive, as we never have enough material 
on them, and even when we do, as in the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries, we never have the all-important 
psychological material." 

Brooke paused and shifted his cigarette holder again. 
The more he said, the more the small room became filled 
with the absent presence. As he talked on into the after- 
noon, I realized that facing me was not only a historian 
but a hagiographer. "The fact that Sir Lewis was an 
Eastern European made him an unprejudiced English 
observer, you know; he didn't have any English axe to 
grind," Brooke said. (Namier was a Polish Jew, born 
Bernstein-Namierowski, in Galicia, who did not come to 
England until he was nineteen years old. ) "You see, most 
people approach history with prejudices. Well, Sir Lewis 
thought that if you confined yourself to looking at the 
lives of people, writing their biographies, you were able 
somehow — at least you had the chance — to write his- 
tory with as little prejudice as possible. You know, he 
wanted to get away from prejudices and find out what 
people were like, what they did, what their motives were. 
A historian's job was constantly to ask what vested in- 
terest a man might have had in not reporting an incident 
accurately, what opportunity he had for reporting it at 
all. If a historian failed to scrutinize all the motives of 
all the people all the time, he might brilliantly reconstruct 
a typical day of George III and still get every fact wrong. 
Characteristically, Sir Lewis's interest was never in the 
big men but always in the little men behind the scenes; 
he would give me the biographies of big politicians to 



222 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

do, and take for himself the backbenchers, not in the 
public eye and with little material. He was for writing 
the biographies of these men because with biographies 
there was less chance of a historian's projecting his own 
ideas into the past and justifying them with facts. For 
example, in writing about the constitutional struggle in 
seventeenth-century England, a Communist would see it 
one way, a Tory in an entirely different way, but if you 
were simply writing biographies . . ." 

He shifted his unlit cigarette once more and went on, 
"Sir Lewis thinks that the reason for the flood of prej- 
udiced histories is that most historians to this day use 
nineteenth-century psychology, as though Freud had 
never lived. Because in history there are no criteria of 
true and false, as in the natural sciences, no one can 
really disprove or dismiss these histories that keep on 
being written and read and accepted." According to 
Brooke, Namier believed that psychology was as im- 
portant to history as mathematics was to astronomy, and 
that without the psychological plane history was two- 
dimensional; all the historians of the past had spent their 
time sketching flat characters. Take the great Charles 
K. Webster, Brooke said, who composed his celebrated 
works within our lifetime. His histories made no con- 
nection between, say, Castlereagh's foreign policy and 
his insanity, which ended in his suicide, and none be- 
tween King George Ill's policy and his insanity — be- 
tween the men as they were and the ideas they had. 
For Namier, if history had any value, it lay in trying to 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 223 

reconstruct the lives of men from practically nonexistent 
material. He wished — as far as the evidence allowed — 
to write history as current events, to view it through the 
eyes of the characters as they were acting history. Namier 
wanted to put himself in the shoes of vanished Kennedys 
and Khrushchevs, and, ignoring all the later happen- 
ings, to see them as they were in the process of making 
decisions. 

I asked Brooke why a historian couldn't write both 
about men and about ideas. 

"It is not that Sir Lewis was not interested in the 
history of ideas," Brooke replied. "He was the last per- 
son to deny that, say, Communism influences the way 
people think, and that we should write about it. But 
he just thought that anybody could sit down and turn 
out a history of ideas, anybody could produce a study 
of Marx and Lenin simply by reading them. It needed 
far more imagination to get to the psychological springs 
of these ideas. In this sense, he did discount plans, ideas, 
and dreams in favor of realities and pressures. In this 
connection"— here Brooke walked over to a bookshelf 
that held the complete works of Namier — "there are a 
couple of very famous paragraphs, you know." And then 
he read out in his thin voice a passage from Namier 's 
"England in the Age of the American Revolution": 

"Why was not representation in the British Parliament — 
a British Union — offered to the Colonies? Or why, alterna- 
tively, was not an American Union attempted, such as had 
been proposed at the Albany Congress in 1754? This might 



224 * Fty an d the Fly-Bottle 

have freed Great Britain from burdens, responsibilities, and 
entanglements, and paved the way to Dominion status. Both 
ideas were discussed at great length and with copious repe- 
tition, but mechanical devices, though easily conceived on 
paper, are difficult to carry into practice when things do 
not, as it were, of their own accord, move in that direction. 
There is 'the immense distance between planning and 
executing' and 'all the difficulty is with the last.' ... In 
the end statesmen hardly ever act except under pressure 
of 'circumstances,' which means of mass movements and of 
the mental climate in their own circles. But about 1770, 
the masses in Great Britain were not concerned with America, 
and the mental and moral reactions of the political circles 
were running on lines which, when followed through, were 
bound to lead to disaster. 

"The basic elements of the Imperial Problem during the 
American Revolution must be sought not so much in con- 
scious opinions and professed views bearing directly on it, 
as in the very structure and life of the Empire; and in doing 
that the words of Danton should be remembered — on ne fait 
pas le proces aux revolutions. Those who are out to appor- 
tion guilt in history have to keep to views and opinions, 
judge the collisions of planets by the rules of road traffic, 
make history into something like a column of motoring acci- 
dents, and discuss it in the atmosphere of a police court. 
But whatever theories of 'free will' theologians and philoso- 
phers may develop with regard to the individual, there is 
no free will in the thinking and actions of the masses, any 
more than in the revolutions of planets, in the migrations of 
birds, and in the plunging of hordes of lemmings into 
the sea." 

Brooke tenderly returned the book to the shelf and 
resumed his seat behind the cluttered desk. "You know," 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 225 

he said, "there has been a bitter debate going on between 
Taylor and Trevor-Roper about Taylor's latest book, 'The 
Origins of the Second World War.' Everyone has been 
wishing that Sir Lewis were alive to settle it. I have 
no doubt about his sentence. The main issues between 
them are: Did Hitler have a plan? Did the masses have 
free will not to follow him? Trevor-Roper invokes Sir 
Lewis's name when, in his review of Taylor's 'Origins/ 
he says 'what devastating justice it would have received' 
at Sir Lewis's hands. I think if Sir Lewis were alive he 
might object to Taylor's provocative style, the lacunae 
in his arguments, but nevertheless, as the paragraphs I 
read to you suggest, he would come out firmly on the 
side of Taylor, for his thesis. When Alan Bullock's bril- 
liant biography of Hitler was published, Sir Lewis and 
I had a long conversation about it. I said to him that 
for me Bullock didn't answer two essential questions: 
Why, if Hitler was so mentally unstable, was he able 
to get such a hold on the German people, and why — 
this is an allied question — did the German people follow 
him as they did? Sir Lewis said that he agreed with my 
criticism, and that, unlike Bullock, he didn't think that 
the answers to these questions could be found in the 
character of Hitler. They were to be found in the Ger- 
man people as a whole — in the pressure of circumstances. 
He himself, in his 'Diplomatic Prelude,' had tried to do 
precisely this — shift the emphasis from Hitler to the 
German nation. In any case, Sir Lewis thought extremely 
highly of Taylor's scholarship, and such criticisms as 



226 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

'Taylor didn't give much weight to the death of the six 
million Jews' wouldn't have caused Sir Lewis to turn a 
hair; after all, their death had little to do with the origins 
of the war. Indeed, if Sir Lewis were now living, his 
presence would be enough to prevent Trevor-Roper from 
laying into Taylor. His very existence deterred people 
from writing bad reviews and bad books. But" — Brooke 
sighed — "his first love was not diplomatic but parliamen- 
tary history." 

"Why was it that the Freud of history took up the 
stick-in-the-mud subject of Parliament?" I asked. 

"Sir Lewis, you know, was essentially an existential 
historian," Brooke replied. "Here, he believed, were the 
people, here their relationships; they together made up 
the circumstances of history. If history was not to be a 
catalogue of suppositions — it became that in the hands 
of most historians — it had to be solidly based on minute 
facts. A historian had to address himself to facts about 
people who mattered — and in his eighteenth century 
the people who really mattered were the politicians. For 
in Parliament and Parliament alone had people made 
politically important decisions. The workers, the peas- 
ants, collectively, had hardly ever mattered, except in 
times of rebellion. But since all rebellions were short- 
lived, a historian rarely had to take notice of them. His 
method, I agree, was perhaps better suited to nineteenth- 
century Europe — the material for it was more abundant 
— but he settled on the eighteenth-century English Par- 
liament because at heart he was an imperialist, and he 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 227 

wanted to know how the American empire had been 
broken up." 

"An imperialist!" I exclaimed. 

"Imperialist, yes. Imperialist," Brooke said. "But the 
reasons for his imperialism are too complicated for me 
to go into." 

I said I had plenty of time. 

"Don't you know anything about Sir Lewis as a man?" 
he asked. 

I said, "Not much." I knew a little bit about Namier 
through a conversation I had had with Toynbee, who 
had been at Balliol with him. "Lewis was the freshest 
thing that happened to Balliol in my time," Toynbee had 
said. "We got on very well, perhaps because we were 
both interested in queer, faraway places — he in his home, 
Eastern Europe, I in the Orient. Perhaps his alien back- 
ground partly explains the totally original outlook he had 
on things all his life. Even as an undergraduate, he suc- 
ceeded in illuminating the world with flashes of insight. 
Once, he came up to me in the college quadrangle and 
told me that in Poland there was little relation between 
the Bible and the development of her language. This 
simple fact made me realize instantly how different life 
in Poland must be from life in England, for here the 
Bible was the fountainhead of the literature, a great 
armory of our language. Perhaps I should have known 
such simple facts, but I didn't. After Oxford, we became 
more and more opposite; he started applying to history 
the same microscopic method that the rabbis had ap- 



228 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

plied to the study of the Scriptures, while I addressed 
myself to larger and larger questions. Yet he told me 
once, Toynbee, I study the individual leaves, you the 
tree. The rest of the historians study the clusters of 
branches, and we both think they are wrong.' For a 
while, I sent him my chapters, like those on Palestine — 
he was a great Zionist — and he never failed to mark 
them up with notes so copious that it was barely possible 
to read the manuscript. One day, when the differences 
in our historical treatment became too great, he returned 
one of my Palestine chapters without a single comment. 
But years later, when I met him in lower Regent Street, 
the first thing he said to me was, Toynbee, about that 
footnote in the Palestine chapter . . .'" 

"Let me begin from the beginning," Brooke said now. 
"Of course his wife, Lady Namier, knows him best as a 
person" — Brooke was back in the present tense — "but 
next to her I suppose I am closest to him. Most people 
find Sir Lewis impossible to get to know. For one thing, 
he doesn't talk to anyone about his deep convictions, lest 
they be misunderstood, and, for another, not being a 
very social person, he doesn't have much opportunity 
for talking. He has no patience with small talk, so if he 
doesn't know people, he is silent, and if he knows them, 
he talks endlessly, but never ranges far from his subject, 
which is why he has a reputation for being a crashing 
bore. In fact, Sir Lewis talked himself out of a chair at 
Oxford. The dons were afraid that he would not be good 
company in the common room. This belief was so uni- 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 229 

versal that it even got into the obituaries. Also, the man- 
ner of his speech was a deterrent. He couldn't really 
pronounce the 'th' — but then some Englishmen can't 
either — but the thing that made his speech most diffi- 
cult was the shortening of the 'a's; he said 'feather' in- 
stead of 'father.' And many people were put off by his 
grim expression, which seldom broke into a smile — but 
when it did, it was wonderful. Yet, you know, Sir Lewis 
is a very engaging man. In winter, he comes into the 
office in a soft hat, but if it's raining he may wear a 
felt cap. He usually comes in at ten o'clock in the morn- 
ing and leaves at six. He also does a lot of work at home. 
He works very hard. He never reads very much outside 
his subject. It is difficult to imagine him having an eve- 
ning with a detective story or a novel. In fact, he is not 
a very broad man. He never listens to music or goes to 
the theatre. He hates the dilettante, and perhaps that's 
another reason he is considered a bit of a bore. When 
he was alive, we used to work in the basement of the 
Historical Institute — they wanted to move us to the 
annex then, but they didn't dare while he was alive. I 
used to sit with another assistant and a secretary in a 
large room, and he occupied the next room, which he 
always kept very bare; there were just the usual books 
all around, and these boxes, and this armchair you're 
sitting in — that was all. The way we worked was to go 
through all the manuscripts and printed sources looking 
for names of Members of Parliament, and first we would 
do a factual survey on where the M.P. lived and when 



230 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

he died — that was all put on one set of cards. Then, on 
the second set, we put where we got all the material, 
and then, with the help of these sets of cards, we wrote 
up the biographies. I wrote mine very quickly. He 
stewed and labored for days and days. He was so neu- 
rotic about his manuscripts that he was always fearful 
that they would go up in smoke. Even though I sat in 
the next room, he asked me to stop smoking. When I 
asked him why, he said, I'm afraid of fire.' You know, 
Sir Lewis is a strange man. But he is not at all moody. 
Not being able to sleep is his greatest curse. He used 
to come to me in the morning and say, 1 didn't sleep 
very much last night. I can't write a word today.' He 
might have as many as four such days in a week. Of 
course, it didn't affect the quality of his research, but 
it did slow him down. I can't sleep at night, either. I'm 
physically tired, but my mind is very active." 

I asked Brooke if he and Namier had a lot of other 
things in common. 

"Of course, I am of his historical persuasion," he said, 
"but a whole generation divides him and his politics 
from me and mine. He was seventy-two when he died, 
and I am forty-one. While he grew up to be a natural 
conservative in imperial Eastern Europe, I grew up in 
a Left Wing, Left Book Club, Spanish Civil War atmos- 
phere, and ended up being a Socialist. I first met Sir 
Lewis when he was a professor at Manchester and I 
chose to do his special topic. We met for two hours at 
a time twice a week. After that, he adopted me as his 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 231 

star pupil and brought me with him to London when 
he came to do the 'History of Parliament,' and after that 
I saw him every day. How he hated change! When I 
started attending his class at Manchester, I happened 
to arrive before anyone else, and took the first chair on 
his left in the semicircle. My second time, I came late, 
but he insisted that I sit in the same chair, saying 'I don't 
like change.' Here in London, he always lunched at the 
same restaurant — Bertorelli's — at the same table, at the 
same hour, and almost always alone. Tea we always had 
together. His routine was by no means the full extent 
of his conservatism. He would have nothing to do with 
television. He would never watch it, he refused to have 
it in his house, and he refused to appear on it. I'm sure 
twenty-five years ago he was against the motorcar. His 
personal conservatism perhaps explains his conservative 
politics. But, you will ask, what about his imperialism? 
Well, I think he was just anti-liberal, you know. He 
didn't have a high opinion of the achievements of the 
human race, and he thought the British Empire was 
humane. Unlike the liberals, he didn't believe in any 
sort of progress; he didn't think things were getting bet- 
ter and better. It wasn't that he didn't want to reform 
decrepit institutions — he just hated to see them go. For 
example, he didn't want the House of Lords abolished, 
even though he knew it was not what it had been in the 
past. He felt we ought to leave it to the life force to 
slowly adapt the institutions to the times. He felt the 
same way about religion. He never talked about that 



232 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

to anyone — except me, when I got to know him very 
well. Then he told me that he believed in an interdenom- 
inational God. The strange thing was that, conservative 
or no, next to Freud he was most influenced by Marx." 

I stretched a little and stood up, but I could tell by 
Brooke's tone that I had stood up a little too early; he 
had more to say. So I sat down again. 

"As I look back on Sir Lewis's life," he was saying, 
"the thing that is perhaps strangest of all is his two-sided 
output, which almost suggests Siamese twins at work. 
First, there are these short — embarrassingly short — his- 
torical essays; they contain only Sir Lewis's brief con- 
clusions, rather like the answers at the back of the arith- 
metic book. And you know that these are answers not 
to small historical sums but to long — very long — ones, 
sometimes covering a hundred-year stretch of history. 
Second, there are these other histories, big histories, on 
which Sir Lewis's reputation rests, and they are so dense 
and detailed — day-by-day historical sums — that one is 
hard put to it to find any conclusions. And these great 
books are really memorable for — among other things, 
of course — not ever having been completed. These un- 
finished histories put one in mind of Michelangelo's 'im- 
prisoned' statues, in which the thought strains to be free 
of the stone. Sir Lewis began chiselling at these big 
books in the twenties, by going to America to look at 
Colonial history, to find out how the empire had broken 
up. But one American historian, Charles McLean An- 
drews, sent him back to England, telling him that the 
best contribution he could make would be to study what 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 233 

happened to the empire from the English side. Here 
in England, he stumbled on huge archives of two famous 
eighteenth-century politicians — nine hundred and twen- 
ty-eight volumes of Hardwicke papers, and five hun- 
dred and twenty-three volumes of Newcastle papers. 
Romney Sedgwick, who later became his closest friend, 
had partly looked through the collections, but, being a 
civil servant, had found no time to do anything with 
them. Indeed, no one had thoroughly, exhaustively 
examined them from the point of view of parliamen- 
tary history. Sir Lewis started digging through this 
material in the Manuscript Room of the British Mu- 
seum, and began writing his masterly The Structure 
of Politics at the Accession of George III.' It was 
published in 1929. The 'Structure' was mainly an an- 
alytical work, and he was going to follow it up with 
a narrative history of 'England in the Age of the Amer- 
ican Revolution,' covering the years from 1760 to 1783, 
but he published only one volume of the narrative, 
which was so detailed that it stopped at 1762. Now, if 
he had completed this project — given a volume to every 
two years — it would have taken a dozen more volumes, 
but he never got around to them. In the thirties, when 
he might have done some more work on the Revolution, 
he became obsessed with Zionism and gave most of his 
time to that. After the war, he started to write again, 
and from the wave of contemporary memoirs and diaries 
he produced his 'Diplomatic Prelude, 1938-39.' Well, 
you know how things were right after the war. Even 
before the study was reviewed, there rushed out from 



234 * Fty an d the Fly-Bottle 

the Foreign Offices and the politicians' pens a flood of 
more memoirs and more diplomatic notes. Then he 
started rewriting this book altogether; he never finished 
it, either. After that, he took up another great work, a 
biography of one Charles Townshend — you know, the 
grandson of the so-called Turnip Townshend, of the 
eighteenth century — in which, for the first time, he was 
going to use explicitly his Freudian principles. That, too, 
was never finished, and his great dream, which took shape 
about the same time, of writing an individual biography 
of nineteen hundred and sixty -four Members of Parlia- 
ment in the Namier period, and exploring the network of 
connections between them — well, death cut it short." 
Brooke abruptly stopped. 

"Why didn't he finish things?" I asked. 

"Well," he said, "it's a mystery." 

"Do you have any theories about it?" I said. 

"There are many things I can say about it," he con- 
tinued. "First — a metaphor. Think of a historian as a 
walker on the road of history. Most historians walk 
straight along the road; they begin at one end and come 
out at the other, without looking left or right. Well, 
Sir Lewis never walked a step without looking in every 
direction; in fact, he spent all his life in byways. Once, 
we went to Bowood, Lord Lansdowne's country house 
in Wiltshire. There were boxes of documents, and we 
had only a day. We divided the boxes up and started 
going through the documents. I got through mine three 
times as fast as Sir Lewis got through his; I would 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 235 

look at a heading and more or less decide from that 
whether there was anything in it of importance to 
the history of Parliament — whether it was just a pri- 
vate letter or an official paper — but not so Sir Lewis. 
He would read about half the document carefully be- 
fore making up his mind. Perhaps I missed something 
— I don't think I missed very much — but he missed 
nothing. Many of the details he thus dug up turned out 
to be irrelevant, but unless he had explored all the by- 
ways, he might never have written his definitive works, 
for before he wrote his big books he took into account 
every discoverable fact; no one could ever supersede 
him by turning up new ones. The other way he insured 
the production of a definitive work was by sheer crafts- 
manship. The pains he took and his incredible judg- 
ment about words made him the best writer of history 
since Gibbon and Macaulay. But being a foreigner and 
also an impeccable stylist slowed him down — it would 
have slowed down the gods. Also, in his later years 
his right arm became paralyzed, which meant that in 
the museums and libraries he couldn't copy down the 
material he needed. He had to resort to a very cum- 
bersome method of copying down only titles and page 
numbers, and the texts later had to be transcribed by 
his secretary. What's more, he could compose only at 
the typewriter, and since he didn't know the touch sys- 
tem, he would hammer out his first draft with one or 
two fingers. He used shorthand such as 'P-1-m-n-t' for 
'Parliament,' 'k' for 'king,' and 't' for 'the.' The draft 



236 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

had to be recopied by his secretary before he could 
even revise. And this process had to be repeated about 
a dozen times, since ten or twelve drafts were not un- 
usual for Sir Lewis. Take the different ways that Sir 
Lewis, the master, and I, a sort of average historian, had 
of writing. We both had boxes of index cards and in- 
numerable folders of typed extracts from documents. 
Suppose Sir Lewis and I were writing on Grenville and 
Burke, respectively — both big men in our period. I 
would go carefully through my boxes, sort out the ma- 
terial, make up my mind about what was important, 
and, once I sat down at the typewriter, type it out very 
quickly. Sir Lewis, on the other hand, would sit at his 
typewriter without knowing what he was going to do 
with the material. He would go back and forth between 
his boxes and folders and his typewriter. It would be 
a constant process of writing and rewriting, shaping and 
reshaping, agony and more agony — and the biography 
was not more than a seven-thousand-word job. Nobody 
could be more sensitive than he as a scale on which 
words could be weighed, but I think that now and again 
he was pedantic about style. For example, you could 
never shake him in his belief that the noun ought to 
come before the pronoun: 'George I, when he was king 
. . .' Once I pointed out to him a Times first leader 
that read, In his speech, Chou En-lai said . . .' to make 
the point that sometimes in good writing the noun did 
come after the pronoun. His comment was simply 'The 
Times is deteriorating.' This business about nouns and 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 237 

pronouns also slowed his reading. 'I am a slow reader 
because — ' he would say to me, and then read out some 
such phrase as 'In his view . . .' 'How do I know/ he 
would shout, 'who it is that "his" refers to?' I think he 
really was a slow reader. As if poring over details, writ- 
ing slowly, and reading slowly were not enough, Sir 
Lewis went to enormous trouble over evidence; he never 
took anything for granted. For example, it was accepted 
by historians that the papers of Lord Bute, a Prime Min- 
ister of George III, were burned in a fire on his estate 
in Luton, Bedfordshire; this belief had been handed 
down through a long tree of history books. Even a his- 
torical commission, which had gone to the horse's mouth, 
a descendant of Bute's, had got this answer. But Sir 
Lewis was not put off. He sought out the descendant, 
and before the chap knew it both he and Sir Lewis were 
at the family solicitor's office, rummaging through papers. 
Of course, they found the Bute papers." 

Outside, London had become dark; we had been talk- 
ing for a long while. I stood up. Brooke came down- 
stairs with me. On the way, I asked him to tell me a 
bit about himself. 

"I've just completed and sent to press all the biogra- 
phies of M.P.s in Sir Lewis's period," he said. "Now 
I'm writing a general survey of conclusions, which I 
hope to finish within the next three or four months. I'm 
a hard worker. Ordinarily, I work from early in the 
morning until late at night. I start work at seven in the 
morning, work until breakfast, at eight, and get to the 



238 * Fly and the Fly-Battle 

office at a quarter to ten. I have a sandwich lunch 
brought to me at my desk, go home about five-thirty, 
and then do two or three hours after dinner. I have a 
lot of books at home. You see, Sir Lewis left me all his 
books, and I have taken many of them home, because 
this office wasn't built for a library and they were afraid 
the floor would collapse." We were at the door now. 
"I'm married. I have three children — a son of ten and 
twins of seven, a boy and a girl." 

I asked Brooke a final question, which I had been 
turning in my mind, but which I had kept waiting, fear- 
ing that it might be indelicate to ask of a hagiographer. 
By this time, however, I had become convinced that no 
question could disturb Brooke's picture of Namier. "Did 
he apply to himself the same methods of analysis that 
he applied to all the nineteen hundred and sixty-four 
M.P.s and to Charles Townshend?" I asked. 

Brooke took the question as I had expected — calmly. 
"Yes, he did. In fact, he spent many years in psycho- 
analysis, but Lady Namier would like to tell you all that 
herself. She is writing a biography of him, and although 
ordinarily wives are not the best biographers, she is an 
exception. She is a most extraordinary woman, and well 
fitted in every way to be the wife of Sir Lewis." 

Namier, I discovered, was still listed in the London 
Directory, and I rang Lady Namier at his number. 
Since she was just then going abroad for a short rest, 
I arranged to meet her on her return and, in the 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 239 

meantime, looked to Namier's critics. As it happened, 
Namier's demise did not serve as a deterrent to criti- 
cism. Indeed, even in his lifetime many voices had 
been raised, though always respectfully, against his 
fragmentary, hairsplitting method, and against his tend- 
ency and that of his "disciples" to denigrate, if not to 
discount, the force of ideas behind men's actions. His 
critics had argued that while his method was ad- 
mirably suited to eighteenth-century England, where 
ideas were at a low temperature, it was ill-suited to, for 
instance, the Puritan Revolution, whose ideological heat 
couldn't be explained away in terms of petty self-interest. 
Herbert Butterfield, Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, 
a mostly analytic dry-biscuit historian, thought he had 
succeeded in sifting the wheat from the chaff in Na- 
mier's thought. Namierites might — indeed, did — object 
to Butterfield the winnower, claiming that he had a 
second role, that of a Christian thinker, which disquali- 
fied him as a balanced critic. (What was the sacred 
stuff of Christianity, its propelling force, they asked. Not 
mundane facts, not every individual motive, but large 
ideals — the concepts of God and the hereafter, the in- 
stitution of the Church, the bond of Communion.) But 
he was not so easily dismissed. He paid his respects to 
the artistry, the ceaseless slavery that carried the results 
of Namier's definitive, if tedious, researches — those sen- 
tences that stood like so many gnomic guards around his 
ambition and his reputation — but still he assailed Na- 
mier, at times successfully thumbing his nose at the spit 



240 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

and polish, the swagger, of the bright battle line. Indeed, 
when Namier was living and terrorizing the historical 
scene from the Delphic pages of the Times Literary Sup- 
plement, Butterfield had boldly issued a book, "George 
III and the Historians," in which he attacked Namier 
and termed his school "the most powerfully organized 
squadron in our historical world at the present time." 
With the throne freshly vacated, Butterfield was no less 
audacious. He appeared on the B.B.C.'s Third Pro- 
gramme and delivered, more in the style of Brutus than 
in that of Mark Antony, an estimation of Namier and 
his work, and while Namierites felt certain that he little 
understood their Caesar, non-Namierites sent up a cheer 
for the speaker's perceptiveness and clear thinking. Many 
of those who listened to him found it hard to resist his 
boyish, intimate voice, which burned with the ardor 
of a people's preacher. Always giving chapter and verse, 
now it praised Namier's style ("Sometimes Namier uses 
a figure of speech so effectively that it acquires a solemn 
ring, like a sound in an empty cavern. . . . But when he 
stands farthest of all from the scene, like a pitying God 
who watches human beings for a moment in love, he 
reaches the sort of music that we find in the thrilling 
parts of the Old Testament: Tor in the life of every man 
comes a night when at the ford of the stream he has to 
strive "with God and with men;" and if he prevails and 
receives the blessing of the father-spirit, he is hence- 
forth free and at peace'"); now it praised Namier's in- 
sight into people, events, and situations ("The thing 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 241 

that carried him far above all routine historians, and 
could not be transmitted to anybody else, was a pene- 
trating kind of insight. It appears in swift impressions of 
people: as when Metternich is described as 'that rococo 
figure in porcelain, stylish and nimble, and in appear- 
ance hollow and brittle.' It shows itself in drastic com- 
ments on events: as when he says that 'The eighteenth- 
century British claim to superiority over the Colonies was 
largely the result of thinking in terms of personified 
countries.' We see it in bold pieces of generalization: 
'The Anglo-Saxon mind, like the Jewish, is inclined to 
legalism'; 'The social history of nations is largely moulded 
by the forms and development of their armed forces' " ) ; 
now it praised the constructive imagination that lay be- 
hind one great work of Namier's, "The Structure of 
Politics at the Accession of George III" ("Once again, 
it was the insight that mattered — insight which . . . pro- 
duced a new landscape for the politics of the year 1760" ) ; 
and now it praised his uncanny ability as a historian to 
rise above the present and reach into the future — the 
dream of all historians ("Even in the midst of contro- 
versy, he could take a distant stand, pausing for a mo- 
ment, and seeing recent events with the eye of a later 
historian. He caught a glimpse of what later generations 
might see, and wrote for a moment once again like a 
pitying God. There is a moving example of this in an 
essay entitled 'Memoirs Born of Defeat' ... in the book 
'Europe in Decay': 'There is a great deal to be said in 
defense of the French statesmen and generals of the 



242 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

inter-war period, but on a plane different from that on 
which most of them choose to argue the case' " ) . But 
then, like spadefuls of earth on the grave, fell the 
"yets"s. Yet the voice, with a thin rumble of thunder, 
denounced Namier's style ("Some of his large-scale 
works remind me of broken Gothic — with gargoyles 
and glimpses of cherubs — the whole involving a mix- 
ture of styles which he was too impatient to turn into 
continuity or assimilate to an architectural design. It 
seems to me, moreover, that he did not care to give much 
of himself to the construction of historical narrative"); 
and yet it expressed reservations about the treatment of 
people, events, and situations ("Namier used a raw 
method of narration, convenient for technical historians 
who like to have their materials neat; but I am not sure 
that even technical historians do not need to be warned 
about its dangers. What he gives us is chiefly a dense 
patchwork of quotations from contemporary letters, and 
so on. But, in the first place, when high spots from such 
documents are telescoped into a short space, and not ac- 
companied by exposition — not accompanied by a type of 
narrative that is more than factual — then the craziness 
of human beings tends to be accentuated by reason of 
what has been left out. We are liable to lose sight of 
that nine-tenths of a man which is more normal hu- 
man nature. I wonder if many people have not come 
to feel that the world of 1760 was sillier than the 
world of most other periods — and full of sillier people 
— because of the danger that lies in this technique 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 243 

so long as the historian is withholding himself from 
part of his function. ... To the technical historian 
I would say that history is not to be produced by draw- 
ing direct lines between one document and another, for 
each must be referred back to a man and a mind from 
which it came. Particularly in the world of politics it 
happens to be the case that men say things and write 
things with what I should call a 'tactical' intent. If you 
take these as a record of a man's opinions, you are bound 
to get the contradictions which made Namier feel that 
here was the craziness of what he called ^historical 
comedy"'); yet it denounced the unconstructive aspects 
of Namier's work ("I wonder if I am the only person in 
the country who wishes that, after 1930, he had worked 
rather on great statesmen not too near the present time, 
or produced a narrative of higher politics — including 
governmental policy — in the reign of George III. In- 
deed, sometimes I wish that all the constituencies and 
elections and Members of Parliament in George Ill's 
reign had been exhaustively treated, so that we could 
return to political history again — to the study of states- 
manship and things that enlarge the mind"); and yet, 
finally, it denounced Namier's historical viewpoint ("He 
went too far in his brilliant thesis that the actions of men 
acquire their rationality and purposefulness only in the 
thinking that is done after the event" ) . 

In his funeral oration, Butterfield took away with one 
hand what he gave with the other, until he left one with 
the impression that he was indeed an honorable man. 



244 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

Now and again, by legerdemain, he slipped into the text 
his own views on how the historian should rule his ma- 
terial. Phrases like "technical historian," "higher poli- 
tics," "the study of statesmanship and things that en- 
large the mind" suggested a way of approaching history 
that was peculiar to Butterfield. And he was not at all 
reluctant to use the opportunity to make his code of 
history more explicit. "I doubt," he declaimed, "whether 
history can be properly written unless one has a sort 
of sense for the evidence that is not there. . . . Each 
document requires one to conduct a special transaction 
with it, and needs to be interpreted in the light of 
everything else that can be gathered round it. When 
eighteenth-century fathers write bitterly about the ego- 
tism of their sons, we must not imagine that here we 
have evidence for the selfishness of the younger men. 
Once everything is put together, we may need actually 
to invert the construction of the passage in question. 
It may turn out to be only additional evidence of the 
father's own egotism." And "Behind the hesitations 
and contradictions of men there is generally, at some 
level, a certain stability of mind and purpose. The 
standing evidence for this element of stable purpose 
needs to be weighed against the day-by-day evidence 
which often shows only the cross-purposes and vacilla- 
tions." 

These intimations of his own theories of history, and 
my wish to clear up the muddle about Namier, made 
me decide to look Butterfield up in Cambridge. He in- 
vited me to have lunch with him at twelve-thirty on a 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 245 

Saturday. I arrived in Cambridge half an hour early, 
and spent the free time going through Peterhouse, which 
is the oldest college at Cambridge, and which in recent 
years has had connected with it some brilliant historians 
— the Reverend Dr. David Knowles, Professor Denis 
Brogan, Professor of Economic History Michael Postan, 
Denis Mack Smith, and Butterfield himself, author of six- 
teen books and a professor and former Vice-Chancellor 
of the university. After a quick tour, I walked across 
the street to the Master's lodgings, a rather old-looking 
house, symmetrical in its design. I was let in by a maid, 
and shown up a carpeted staircase to an oak-panelled 
study with a fireplace, a large desk, and many books. 

Butterfield, who was born with the century, and who 
has round shoulders, silvery hair, and overpowering 
charm, shuffled in, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and an 
informal dull-gray suit. I shook the Master's hand and 
sat down with him on a sofa in front of the fireplace. 
He was gracious and unassuming, and in appearance 
he suggested a country parson. A Player's cigarette, how- 
ever, hung from his lower lip, and threatened to fall 
off at any moment. He certainly didn't look like Brutus, 
even less like St. John the Baptist, yet as he talked on 
into the afternoon, his voice once in a while had an 
uncomfortable ring of crying in the wilderness, and his 
tone, though never prophetic, was sometimes jarringly 
out of tune with the temper of the times. 

First, after a little prompting from me, he talked about 
Namier: "I don't suppose anyone has written Namier a 
more rapturous tribute than I have. He was a giant — 



246 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

perhaps the only giant in our time. He was a historian's 
historian, because his research was all-embracing and 
flawless, his artistry imposing. He took a certain view 
of the eighteenth century, and I agree with him. But as a 
teacher, and a master of the college, I have to deplore 
his method. If we were to teach history by Namier's 
method, if we were to train students to do research and 
try to write history as Namier did, then history as a part 
of education would cease to exist. Already his influence 
has been pernicious. In some colleges, people have bur- 
rowed themselves like moles into smaller and smaller 
holes — in a little biographical hole here, in a little diplo- 
matic hole there — and their minds have ceased to de- 
velop. As far as I am concerned, the point of teaching 
history to undergraduates is to turn them into future 
public servants and statesmen, in which case they had 
better believe in ideals, and not shrink from having ideas 
and policies and from carrying their policies through. 
We mustn't cut the ground from under them by teach- 
ing that all ideas are rationalizations. In brief, we must 
take a statesmanlike view of the subject. No doubt 
Namier would smile at this — I know it sounds priggish 
— but I happen to think history is a school of wisdom and 
of statesmanship. If these undergraduates are going to 
become professional historians, I like them best when 
they feel at ease in many periods of history, when they 
are in the classical tradition of scholarship, like Sir 
George — G. N. — Clark, the historian of seventeenth- 
century Europe. Have you met him?" 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 247 

I said I had. G. N. Clark was a stalwart of the English 
scholarly Establishment. He had written an introduction 
to "The New Cambridge Modern History" and, at a 
luncheon party, launched the fifteen-volume "Oxford 
History of England." He had been a professor at both 
universities. When he was at Cambridge, scholars used 
to consult "G. N." in the same spirit as the Greeks con- 
sulted the oracle. To meet "G. N.," who turned out to 
be a very cautious, canny Yorkshire gentleman of seventy- 
two, I had gone all the way to King's Sutton, a typical 
English village lying near the pastoral Cotswold Hills 
north of Oxford, where at present he is living and writing 
a history of medicine. Huddling over a primitive gas 
stove, G. N. had quietly delivered his classical notions of 
scholarship. "In my view, history should be written 
without any thesis to prove. It should be a collective, co- 
operative effort to search out the evidence and write it 
up in felicitous language. But nowadays scholars dash 
off books with incredible mistakes in them, and other 
scholars wait to catch them out in reviews, when by 
reading the manuscript in advance of publication they 
could have corrected them, cleared them up. In times 
past, when history was not done by everybody but by 
a small band of devotees, there was no impetus to contro- 
versy. But the growth — by leaps and bounds — of the 
layman's knowledge of history has made of scholars prima 
donnas; they can't resist playing up to their new-found 
audience. I myself learned that controversy did not lead 
anywhere quite early on. When I was an undergradu- 



248 * Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

ate, we had a very eminent speaker at a college society — 
I don't want to mention his name and get embroiled in 
controversy, the very thing I disapprove of. After he had 
finished speaking, like a typical undergraduate — and 
scholars today — I stood up and made a pretty little at- 
tack on his speech, which I concluded by quoting a line 
from Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Patience': 'Nonsense, yes, 
perhaps — but oh, what precious nonsense!' To my great 
amazement, the eminent speaker dissolved into tears. 
Since then I have found myself in only two minor contro- 
versies; one of my opponents, poor chap, died before he 
had a chance to reply." G. N.'s noncontroversial, "com- 
mittee" approach to history had a long and august line 
of' descent. In a sense, it was the classical way of doing 
history. But the rub was that committee history, such 
as "The New Cambridge Modern History," tended, as 
some critics had pointed out, to be static and dull (it 
took on the quality of rows upon rows of evenly clipped 
hedges in the land of the gentry), because our discovery 
in this century of the subterranean impulses behind men's 
thought and action had shattered the simple, the har- 
monious, the proportioned, the finished — the classic 
— view of the world which that history mirrored, and had 
given the interpretive mind an all-important role. Carr, 
in "What Is History?," had registered this objection — as 
often, in a rather extreme form — when he wrote, "In- 
deed, if, standing Sir George Clark on his head, I were 
to call history 'a hard core of interpretation surrounded 
by a pulp of disputable facts,' my statement would, no 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 249 

doubt, be one-sided and misleading, but no more so, I 
venture to think, than the original [Clark's] dictum." 

Butterfield continued to talk about Namier and Na- 
mierites. Puffing every so often at his Player's, which had 
a permanent place on his lower lip, he casually criti- 
cized a couple of Namierites and just a little less cas- 
ually saluted Taylor. "Namier's titular successor, Brooke, 
and the Oxford historian Betty Kemp, et cetera, tend to 
underestimate — although perhaps Namier himself didn't 
— the part that ideas play in history," Butterfield said. 
"For example, they say that George III didn't have any 
policies, didn't have any ideas. Well, I think even George 
III had some ideas. But Taylor, Namier's pupil for eight 
years, is a horse of another color. Do you know, I am 
one of the few people who even admire his 'Origins of 
the Second World War'? I have been saying this to all 
my colleagues. It seems to me that we ought to try to 
look at technical history as objectively as possible, and 
I think the contemporary view of history is often the 
least satisfactory and the most biased. Sometimes the 
future puts the past into perspective, adds an element 
to it unknown to the contemporaries. Take the English 
Reformation. The people who carried out the Reforma- 
tion and the contemporaries who wrote about it never 
realized that the enormous price revolution in the six- 
teenth century — in many cases, prices quadrupled — had 
been a factor in the Reformation conflicts. It was only 
later that historians discovered this piece of knowledge. 
Or simply take the origins of the First World War. The 



250 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Russians who were living 
during the war all looked at it purely from their own 
points of view. It was only later that historians came 
along and started looking at the origins from all sides, 
and we found out that the war was not started by the 
Germans or the Austro-Hungarians but by things like 
imperial naval rivalry and the Balkan issue — tilings en- 
demic in the European situation. Similarly, until Taylor, 
people took the contemporary view — indeed, it is the 
orthodoxy — that the Second World War was caused by 
Germany and Hitler. And I think Taylor was right, at 
least in intention, to come along later and ask himself 
how the origins of the war looked from English, French, 
Russian, and German documents. Of course, other peo- 
ple had written from a documentation that was multi- 
national before Taylor, but his book represents a later 
stage in the development of historiography — namely, 
the very difficult point where one begins to go over 
the story without always having in mind the way that 
the story ended. Also, what Taylor is saying is not that 
Hitler and Germany didn't start the war; he is saying 
that they didn't start the war when the war was started, 
that Hitler didn't want the war when in fact it came — 
and that is quite a different thing from saying Hitler 
didn't want war at all. The book may be full of flaws, 
but it's more interesting than has been made out. The 
fact that Taylor fails to condemn Hitler doesn't worry 
me; it sounds priggish, but I don't think passing judg- 
ment is in the province of a technical historian. I think 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 251 

that's God's job, that's God's history — though I don't 
personally like the term." 

And Butterfield went on to define his strange, almost 
medieval concept of God's history. "In my view, there 
are two kinds of history: God's history and technical his- 
tory," he said. "God's history is evaluative; you distribute 
blame, you judge people, and so on. Technical history is 
what we all write; you look at the evidence, you draw 
conclusions. With it you can't really get through to the 
intimate part of history, to the ninety-nine per cent of 
history; you can't find out, for example, whether Caesar 
loved his wife, or whether I am sincere or honest when 
I say certain things. It sounds priggish, but I think only 
God can know all that. I am impelled to explain this 
because these two kinds of history are often confused; St. 
Augustine's 'City of God' was taken literally in the 
Middle Ages as technical history, when in fact it was 
God's history, so this nimble book, in the hands of the 
zealots, became a literal text." 

Butterfield was not the first to divide up the province 
of history between God and man, one infinite in scope 
and the other infinitesimal; indeed, the idea of God's 
history had a long lineage, stretching from the Old Testa- 
ment, through St. Augustine, to Reinhold Niebuhr and 
Arnold Toynbee. What was remarkable was that, what- 
ever Butterfield's religious views, they never colored his 
professional academic history, and, perhaps because he 
never hitched his lay history to the ecclesiastical wagon, 
he didn't forfeit his professional colleagues' respect or 



252 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

confidence. But sometime in the middle forties, in the 
midstream of his historical career ( the technical variety ) , 
he had felt the need to define and demarcate the two 
fields, and had done so in his book "Christianity and 
History." I asked him now why he had suddenly stepped 
into the murky no man's land of history and religion. 

"Sometime during the war, the theologians of Cam- 
bridge invited a lay philosopher to lecture on philosophy 
and Christianity," he replied. "The lectures, coming in 
the trough of war depression, were such a great success 
— undergraduates flocked to them — that the theologians 
decided to follow them up with lectures on history and 
Christianity. Again they wanted a lay historian, rightly 
thinking that his pronouncements would carry more 
weight with the unconverted, but no such historian was 
forthcoming. I let myself be coaxed into doing it. Since 
the lectures, I find myself regarded as an authority on 
the subject, when I am really . . ." 

Then Butterfield reluctantly talked a little about his 
private, religious view of the world. "I am a Noncon- 
formist, a Methodist, but I don't think my belief in Provi- 
dence, my belief in both original sin and free will — with- 
out the one you can't have the other — and the other 
tenets of my religious faith need come into my writing 
of technical history, though I often wonder whether 
Christian views of life don't somewhere make a differ- 
ence even to the professional historian. I rather think 
that a Christian would be tied to an idea of personality, 
which would make a difference in the realm of hidden 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 253 

assumptions, and would perhaps result in a history of 
a different texture from that of a man who was in every 
respect a materialist. If I chose to, I could write history 
with an eye on Providence and on moral progress, just 
as Marx and Carr have written with their eyes on social 
progress. But, I repeat, I don't think the City of God 
need come into our story about the Worldly City. Per- 
haps we can't write about the City of God at all; we 
don't have any historical evidence for it. I know all this 
sounds very priggish; it's not fashionable to say this sort 
of thing nowadays." 

A bell, thin and light, like the upper register of a 
church peal, tinkled somewhere, and Butterfield stood 
up. "That means lunch is on the table," he said. Walk- 
ing downstairs, he told me that while he and Carr were 
on the best of terms — in Oxford historians were foes, I 
gathered, and in Cambridge they were friends — the two 
of them had been carrying on a lively correspondence 
about matters they disagreed on. In the dining room, 
which was oak-panelled, like the study, Butterfield seated 
himself at a corner of the big table and talked some more 
about his disagreements with Carr. "Carr," he said, eat- 
ing some melon, "is too much interested in society, to the 
exclusion of individuals. For instance, he says that if you 
cannot find out whether Richard III killed the princes in 
the Tower — the evidence is confusing — then you must 
find out if other kings killed princes in towers at that 
period. If they did, we can take it for granted that 
Richard III did the same. So what, I have to ask, if 



254 * Fty an d the Fly-Bottle 

other kings killed princes? Our interest ought to be in 
Richard III. It's not only that as a Christian my interest 
is in the the individual, but . . ." 

The maid, who was as formal as Butterfield was in- 
formal, served roast lamb, roast potatoes, and cauliflower, 
but Butterfield's talk could not be arrested by food. As 
I soon found out, he had set off on a scholastic argument 
with Carr, and not even his maid could rein him in. In 
a moment, he had left the table, rushed upstairs, and re- 
turned with Carr's book "What Is History?," which he 
handled less as if it were a Bible than as if it were a script 
of heretical writing. "In 1931," he said, leafing through 
the pages while his roast lamb, roast potatoes, and cauli- 
flower got colder and colder, "I published my third book. 
In it I took to task a historical orthodoxy — the Whig in- 
terpretation of history, which had blighted the true study 
of English history for more than a hundred years. For the 
Whig historians — our nineteenth-century fathers — the 
whole of English history, from the Magna Carta to the 
constitutional gains of the nineteenth century, was simply 
one long battle between the forces of light and the forces 
of darkness, between the forces of liberty and the forces 
of despotism. Here is Carr's gloss to the book." 

Having taken some sips of ginger ale, Butterfield 
mounted the altar of disputation. " 'In the iconoclastic 
1930's . . .'" he began, reading aloud from his text with 
boyish exuberance, and obviously relishing the contre- 
temps of the lunch; his voice resounded with quiet con- 
fidence, not the confidence of the righteous but that of 
the man who has possession of his audience. 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 255 

". . . when the Liberal Party had just been snuffed out as 
an effective force in British politics [he read on], Professor 
Butterfield wrote a book called 'The Whig Interpretation of 
History,' which enjoyed a great and deserved success . . . 
not least because, though it denounced the Whig interpre- 
tation over some 130 pages, it did not . . . name a single 
Whig except Fox, who was no historian, or a single his- 
torian save Acton, who was no Whig. . . . The reader was 
left in no doubt that the Whig interpretation was a bad thing, 
and one of the charges brought against it was that it . . ." 

As Butterfield came now to his own words in the little 
book, he quickened the tempo of his reading: 

" '. . . studies the past with reference to the present' [the 
constitutional battle of the nineteenth century]. On this 
point, Professor Butterfield was categorical and severe. 'The 
study of the past with one eye, so to speak, upon the present, 
is the source of all sins and sophistries in history. ... It is 
the essence of what we mean by the word "unhistorical.". . .' " 

His voice returned to its normal pace: 

"Twelve years elapsed. The fashion for iconoclasm went 
out. Professor Butterfield's country was engaged in war often 
said to be fought in defence of the constitutional liberties 
embodied in the Whig tradition, under a great leader who 
constantly invoked the past 'with one eye, so to speak, upon 
the present.' In a small book called 'The Englishman and 
His History,' published in 1944, Professor Butterfield not 
only decided that the Whig interpretation of history is the 
'English' interpretation, but spoke enthusiastically of 'the 
Englishman's alliance with his history' and of the 'marriage 
between the present and the past.' To draw attention to 
these reversals of outlook is not an unfriendly criticism. 
It is not my purpose to refute the proto-Butterfield with the 



256 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

deutero-Butterfield, or to confront Professor Butterfield drunk 
with Professor Butterfield sober. I am fully aware that, if 
anyone took the trouble to peruse some of the things I wrote 
before, during, and after the war, he would have no difficulty 
at all in convicting me of contradictions and inconsistencies 
at least as glaring as any I have detected in others. Indeed, 
I am not sure that I should envy any historian who could 
honestly claim to have lived through the earth-shaking events 
of the past fifty years without some radical modifications of 
his outlook. My purpose is merely to show how closely the 
work of the historian mirrors the society in which he works. 
It is not merely the events that are in flux. The historian 
himself is in flux. When you take up a historical work, it is 
not enough to look for the author's name in the title-page: 
look also for the date of publication or writing — it is some- 
times even more revealing." 

"So, Carr's gloss to my text is that he and I and all 
other historians are products of our times and our so- 
cieties," Butterfield said. He dropped the book beside his 
plate and picked up his knife and fork for the first time. 
"The interesting thing," he continued, cutting his meat, 
"is that the passage in 'The Englishman and His History' 
to which Carr refers, while published in 1944, was writ- 
ten and delivered in a lecture, in 1938." He paused sig- 
nificantly. "It happens that I am living and can contra- 
dict a small part of Carr's sociological history. But what 
if I weren't? Indeed, even though I am alive, Carr re- 
fuses to take me at my word. When I wrote to him that 
the passage in question was composed in 1938, he im- 
mediately wrote back that he would like to look at that 
lecture. Don't you see, in his letter he handed me an im- 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 257 

plied threat: that I must have changed — perhaps just 
by a few words — the book from the lecture. Unfortu- 
nately for me, I don't happen to have a copy of the 
original lecture, so even though I am an alive fact, I am 
unable to budge Carr." He laughed heartily. 

With the sweet, Butterfield lightly remarked that the 
reason he liked Toynbee was that, unlike most great his- 
torians, he was not as a person "a heavy." He said that 
while he agreed with Toynbee's method — "making 
generalizations of a higher and higher order, of course 
empirically, from the known facts" — he felt that Toyn- 
bee's generalizations, like Carr's theories, outran the 
facts. 

Upstairs, over coffee, Butterfield talked a little bit about 
himself. "At school — in the West Riding of York- 
shire — I wanted to do classics," he said. "I don't think 
one can be a first-rate humanist without classics. But 
my headmaster wanted me to go into the scientific stream, 
because we didn't have Greek at the school. One day, 
he came to me and said, 'Butterfield, let's compromise 
on history.' I did. I read history there and at Peter- 
house and have been working at it here one way or an- 
other for the past thirty years. I think I would have been 
a better historian with classics." 

I didn't agree, and argued with him. but, like most 
English intellectuals, he had been bitten as a child by the 
classical bug — they separate the universe automatically 
into classics and science — and most of my points were 
vigorously, though kindly and charmingly, brushed 



258 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

aside. Afterward, the Master went on to talk a little about 
his intellectual preoccupations. "I don't believe in com- 
mittee history, a la Namier — I believe in one-outlook 
history," he said. "Since 1939, I have been working inter- 
mittently on "The Cambridge Shorter Modern History' 
of Europe. I hope my 'History' will display some of the 
analytical gifts of Namier and some of the flow of Miss 
Wedgwood, but, unlike the Namierites, I don't mind if 
it is superseded one day by future research; I only hope 
it won't be superseded before I have finished writing 
it — like the works of inferior narrative historians. The 
life of Charles James Fox, the eighteenth-century states- 
man, is even closer to my heart than the European his- 
tory. You know how it came about?" 

I shook my head. 

"Somebody told Trevelyan — he had a lot of the Fox 
papers in his possession — that my schoolboy ambition 
had been to write a biography of Fox. Just around that 
time, I had published my 'Whig Interpretation of His- 
tory,' and Trevelyan, who was the last of the Whig his- 
torians, was rather put out with me. He felt sure that 
my book was a surreptitious attack on him personally. 
This was not true. Despite his hurt feelings, in 1930 he 
sent me the Fox papers, with his blessing. I was over- 
whelmed. I had actually hoped that Trevelyan himself 
would write the biography; in any case, I didn't truly 
feel that I had the mental equipment for Fox. Off and 
on since 1930, I've been working at the biography, but 
I have been so intimidated by my task that I have been 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 259 

bringing out monographs and little books on certain as- 
pects of his life (his foreign policy, and the like) — 
books that, in the true tradition of the Namierites, some- 
times covered no more than a year of Fox's activities. 
Someday, when I have published enough of these piece- 
meal studies, I shall perhaps be able to realize my school- 
boy ambition. What has held me to Fox all these many 
years is his overpowering charm. The strange thing is 
that while everybody testifies to his charm, there is no 
evidence for it in the way he conducted himself. I mean, 
you look at his portrait and he appears fat and vulgar. 
You listen to the talk of his contemporaries and you dis- 
cover he was quite a rogue. The papers of the period are 
full of his hurting people, his wrong deeds. But within 
six months all his deeds, all his wickedness were always 
forgiven. And everybody says that what did it was his 
charm. I am completely under his spell — the spell of his 
charm." 

During my rounds, many historians had mentioned 
Lady Namier with affection and awe, and had praised 
her marriage with Namier. "For both, it was a second 
and a late marriage," one had said. "Both had been 
rather unhappy until they met each other; bad experi- 
ences in Eastern Europe, the homeland of both of them, 
had dogged them much of their lives. But their mar- 
riage turned out to be one of the happiest among his- 
torians in memory. I have never seen two people have 
such an impact on each other." 



260 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

I now found Lady Namier, who lived in the Gram- 
pians, a block of flats near Shepherd's Bush, in Namier's 
study. It was a small room with white walls, blue hang- 
ings, a blue carpet, and — most prominent of all the 
furnishings — a dark-orange chair, which, I learned, had 
been his favorite chair at home. Lady Namier was a 
dignified woman, her face etched with deep lines of 
suffering. She was dressed in mourning, although more 
than a year had gone by since her husband's death. She 
showed me a sheltered balcony off the study, explaining 
that her husband used to spend his Sunday afternoons 
there when they didn't go out, and saying that she had 
lived at the Grampians with a woman friend for some 
years before her marriage to Namier, in 1947. They had 
often thought of getting a more spacious place, but once 
he had settled there he didn't want his books and papers 
moved, so they had stayed on year after year. We re- 
turned to the study, and she asked me to take the dark- 
orange chair. 

"Because of my back, I prefer to sit in this," she ex- 
plained, choosing a straight one. "I picked up my in- 
firmities in Russia — in a concentration camp and in soli- 
tary confinement in prison — during the Stalin regime." 
I knew that she was a Russian by birth, and that her 
first husband had been Russian. Without any prompt- 
ing from me, she went on, "At the beginning of the 
purges, my first husband and I had a rather disturbed 
career, you understand. For unknown reasons, we were 
sent into a sort of prison-exile in Central Asia — which 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 261 

meant Samarkand, and later Tashkent. In these camps, 
hunger was so bad — this was around 1930 — that there 
was cannibalism. When we arrived at the first of these 
places, there was a loud affair — in the papers and all 
that sort of thing — that patties with human meat in 
them were being served. Now, man doesn't eat man 
unless he must. Later, we were arrested on the charge 
that my husband was a terrorist and wanted to kill Stalin 
— whom, by the way, he had never seen — and that I 
knew all about his plot and the men who were impli- 
cated with him. I don't know what happened to him; 
he disappeared. I was put into solitary confinement in 
Moscow, where I became very ill. There was little to 
eat and nowhere to walk, my muscles went weak, my 
back broke, my hands and feet became frostbitten, and 
recently I've discovered that even the inside of my face 
was frostbitten, leaving me with a permanent sinus con- 
dition. When I was too sick to walk, I was pushed out, 
to lug myself and my sticks — my few belongings — about. 
I left Russia." Lady Namier said that under her maiden 
name, Iulia de Beausobre, she had written a book about 
her experiences, "The Woman Who Could Not Die." 
She explained that, perhaps because she was a writer, 
or perhaps because she had learned something from her 
solitary confinement, she had only two touchstones for 
her life — truthfulness and complete candor. "I am writ- 
ing my biography of Lewis with these touchstones," she 
said. "I know that he would have liked it so." 
Lady Namier's way of talking was overwhelming; she 



262 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

emphasized practically every word, and everything she 
said, no matter how matter-of-fact, had a deep emo- 
tional content. I came to realize that although her enun- 
ciation gave the impression of nervousness, she was 
simply speaking English with the exaggerated clarity 
of a foreigner. While we talked, we faced a photograph 
of Namier's head and shoulders. His face was more im- 
pressive than attractive; a bony forehead and protrud- 
ing cheekbones made his face seem narrow and also gave 
the impression of strength. "This picture was taken in 
Israel one spring," Lady Namier said. "I am waiting 
for Lewis's head in wood, which is coming any day. 
Physiologically, the most interesting thing about him 
was the back of his head, which was round and pro- 
tuberant, like a dome. I have already written three 
chapters of Lewis's biography, but so far I am only up 
to his early days in Eastern Europe. He was born just 
outside Warsaw — in a country house — and he later 
lived in many parts of Poland, including the Russian 
and Austrian sections. While growing up, he acquired, 
as a matter of course, besides his own Polish language, 
German and Ukrainian, and, from his Polish governess, 
English. But Polish was always the language he spoke 
most beautifully, and because it was so different from 
English, he never succeeded in speaking English well. 
His written English, however, which he was always 
scrubbing and polishing, was another matter. After all, 
the century of his interest was a century of great Eng- 
lish prose." 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 263 

Lady Namier went into the kitchen and brought out 
a tray full of bananas, grapes, apples, and oranges. I 
took an apple, and she picked up a bunch of grapes. 
"Because of political troubles," she said, "the Namierow- 
skis left Poland and settled for a time in Lausanne, Switz- 
erland, where Lewis first heard the sociologist Vilfredo 
Pareto lecture. He followed him to the London School 
of Economics, where he was introduced one day to A. L. 
Smith, then Senior Tutor at Balliol, who immediately 
decided that Lewis belonged to Balliol. So at the age 
of twenty he found himself at the college." Having eaten 
two or three grapes, she said, "I live on fruits. Lewis 
was not a very sentimental man, but he was a deeply 
grateful one. He used to tell me that he always knew 
he had a good brain, a good mechanical apparatus, but 
that he really learned to use it at Balliol, at the feet of 
A. L. Smith. He said to me that the greatest honor of 
his life was to be made an honorary Fellow of the college. 
In 1930 or '31, he was given a chair at Manchester. In 
1941 or '42, we met. The reason I am writing a biography 
of Lewis is that while many people understood him in- 
tellectually, no one understood his range of emotions. 
And his ideas would have been better understood if he 
had been able to write the fruit of his life's study, that 
survey of the English Parliament which John Brooke is 
writing now. But Lewis was a subtle, withdrawn man, 
and he would laugh even at his summaries of his own 
theories. Once, he said to Sir Isaiah Berlin — Isaiah was 
a little hurt; he thought Lewis was being unkind — 'You 



264 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

must be a very clever man to understand what you write.' 
About his interests — during his Galician childhood he 
had injured his ears while hunting with an old gun, so 
music meant nothing to him. He was worse than tone- 
deaf. We did go and look at a lot of pictures, in Flor- 
ence, in Siena, in Amsterdam, but whenever Lewis looked 
at pictures, he thought only of his period, and what light, 
if any, they threw on his history. Perhaps that's why 
he preferred portraiture to any other form of painting. 
A lot of people thought him a snob, because he was in 
the company of lords and ladies, but he cultivated lords 
and ladies mainly for their muniment rooms, which were 
repositories of a wealth of historical documents. He had 
no hobbies; he worked all the time. Naturally, we weren't 
very social. But the tragedy of his life was that he never 
slept. Oh, he did have one good night every few months, 
and then he worked at his best the next day. It was by 
comparison that the nights he didn't sleep seemed so 
bad. He had to take pills to go to sleep, other pills to 
wake up. He was therefore irritable. As I was saying, 
the most interesting thing about him was the range of 
his emotions. Though he was a Jew, he didn't basically 
like Jews. Lewis believed in character, which he thought 
was as fixed in all men as a stone in a ring; he didn't 
like what had become of the Jewish character. He 
thought that historical circumstances had made of the 
Jew a petit bourgeois and a rootless creature; money had 
taken the place of ties and roots. But Lewis, instead of 
leaving the Jews there, became the most ardent Zionist 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 265 

of his time, maintaining that the only way the Jews could 
become normal was to have roots, and the only place 
they could put down their roots was their original home, 
Palestine. His Zionism consisted of trying to join the 
land and the state." 

I broke into the fast flow of her words to ask her the 
question that had brought me to her: "Did he apply to 
himself the same method of analysis that he applied to 
others? How did he go about analyzing, for instance, 
the source of his Zionism?" 

"He did more than analyze himself," she said. "He 
was always being psychoanalyzed. First in Vienna in 
1923 and '24, and then off and on in England for the 
rest of his life. He had this cramp — paralysis — in his 
right arm. It wasn't just a writer's cramp, and doctors 
told him that the cause was not physiological but psycho- 
logical. That was the beginning of his psychoanalysis. 
In the twenties, his cramp wasn't so bad, but in the 
thirties, with the mounting mistreatment of Jews, his 
arm became almost useless. Indeed, Lewis was so terri- 
fied of the idea of a German occupation of England that 
he had one of his doctor friends give him a bottle of 
poison, which he always carried in his waistcoat pocket, 
so he could kill himself in case the Germans came. Not 
until the war was over could I make him throw the 
tablets away." 

"What did psychoanalysis do for him?" I asked. 

"It brought to the surface of his mind many, many 
things — such as the fact that his Zionism was really a 



266 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

result of the conflict between his Polish mother and his 
Galician father, and that his wish to unite the land and 
state of Israel was really an attempt to paper over child- 
hood memories of his bickering parents. And his con- 
servatism — he always insisted he was a radical Tory — 
he discovered was a result of his loneliness as a child 
and as a grownup. You see, he never hunted in a pack, 
he was always an outsider. Because he never learned 
how to consort with people, he wanted to find out the 
principles by which people consort with each other. 
And this is why he spent most of his life studying the 
politics of Parliament, and so on — because that was 
where people best consorted with each other. Not for 
nothing did he use an epigraph from Aeschylus' 'Pro- 
metheus Vinctus' for his 'Structure of Politics.'" Lady 
Namier went on to recite the lines: " 'I took pains to 
determine the flight of crook-taloned birds, marking 
which were of the right by nature, and which of the 
left, and what were their ways of living, each after his 
kind, and the enmities and affections that were between 
them, and how they consorted together.' Again, he found 
that he was an imperialist because he thought the 
Romans had discovered the principle and had worked 
out a very good system of consorting together; they 
had preserved peace as a result of it. Like the Romans, 
the English had mastered the principle, and — individ- 
ually, at least — were kind enough, humane enough, to 
teach it to their subjects, and Lewis thought that if 
their institutions were grafted onto other societies the 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 267 

other societies would know how to consort also. He 
spent his life studying group life — the very thing that 
he didn't, he couldn't, have. But he by no means ac- 
cepted Freud and psychoanalysis whole hog. He ac- 
cepted the diagnostic half of Freud but not the thera- 
peutic; he knew that his cramp was caused by the per- 
secution of the Jews, yet his arm didn't get any better, 
and he knew why he was a Zionist, yet he remained a 
Zionist. His view of psychoanalysis, whether it was ap- 
plied to the past or to him, was that it deepened one's 
understanding without curing anything. The sex side 
of Freud didn't engage him very much, either; he was 
really never interested in the sexual lives of the M.P.s. 
In that way, he was much more of a later Freudian, 
for he believed the basic human impulse to be the death 
wish. The death wish in Lewis himself was very strong, 
and perhaps that is why he died so blissfully — very 
blissfully. When I think of Lewis, I'm most thankful 
that he had so little pain at his death. He was seventy- 
two when he died. The day of his fatal illness, he rang 
me up from the office to say not to prepare dinner at 
home, as usual; he would pick something up en route, 
so he could get to work that evening with a minimum 
of interference. At that time, we were preparing a new 
edition of that first volume of the 'American Revolution.' 
He came home about six-thirty, and I heard fumbling 
at the door. I knew immediately that it was Lewis, but 
I also sensed that there was something wrong. I went 
to the door and there he was, white as snow. He said 



268 • Fly and the Fly-Bottle 

he'd been seized by the most violent pain, but, as usual, 
he'd come in the Tube — strap-hanging. I got him into 
bed, and called our doctor. He came, gave him an in- 
jection, said it was an inexplicable cramp, and assured 
me that when the pain wore off Lewis would be able 
to sleep — which he did. At four o'clock, however, Lewis 
knocked on the wall. I rushed in. He was in consider- 
able distress. The telephone was at his bedside, and I 
didn't want to ring the doctor in front of him; I thought 
it would frighten him. Finally, I decided to do it, but 
he prevented me. The doctor was here late last night,' 
he said, 'and I don't want him disturbed at this terrible 
hour/ Then he looked up, radiant, and said, 'What a 
pity! Yesterday was the first time I saw in my mind's 
eye the survey of Parliament as a whole.' He died the 
next morning." 

At home, reading over the notes on my various talks, 
I could, for one thing, hear the wits of Cambridge heck- 
ling Butterfield: "How can you judge Namier by the 
Namierites? Shouldn't you judge a school of thought 
by its best representative, Namier, rather than by its 
worst representatives, moles 'burrowing themselves into 
smaller and smaller holes'?" And "Isn't the point of 
education to make us skeptics — skeptics about ourselves 
and skeptics about others — rather than to beat us into 
receptacles for remote imaginary ideals and policies?" 
And "How can you in this day and age believe in the 
City of God? If God's history shouldn't exist, aren't you 



The Flight of Crook-Taloned Birds • 269 

and Namier really saying the same thing — that human 
history in the last analysis is unknowable?" And, and, 
and . . . 

If there were a rock of philosophy still standing, a 
Butterfield could hide behind it and avoid the tomatoes 
and onions of controversy. As someone has said, with a 
sleepy nod to his Greek predecessor, "I have read some- 
where — in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, I think — that 
History is Philosophy teaching by examples." Even if 
the reverse should be the case — if philosophy should 
turn out to be incidental to history — still, without philos- 
ophy there could be no one acceptable history, no one 
way of doing it. But today, it seemed, there was no 
agreement, even on how to crack one of the oldest chest- 
nuts in the philosophical fire, determinism. Were all 
thieves kleptomaniacs? Were the Genghis Khans and 
Adolf Hitlers helpless victims of circumstance? Should 
we therefore substitute the psychiatrist's couch for the 
hangman's noose? 

Unless a philosopher finds for us an acceptable faith 
or synthesis — as Plato and Aristotle did together for 
their age, and St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and 
Immanuel Kant for theirs — we remain becalmed on a 
painted ocean of controversy, and for better or worse, 
insofar as the past is a compass to the future, there will 
never be anyone to whistle thrice for us and say, once and 
for all, "The game is done! I've won! I've won!" 



Date Due 
Due Jffiurne f d D>;e R°*" 

x / y 

This >6ok E&y Be kept 7'days 
free', then 3 cen\^ a day is 
charged. Renewals' &nd 
reservations can not "be 
accepted. 



Date Due 
Du<^ Returned Due Returned 



Fly and the fly-bottle: main 
192M498IC2 



3 lSfe.2 03317 130b 



192 

C 9